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Dashiell: Ferry meeting revealed boats are deliberately running slowly

  • Written by Robert Dashiell

Robert Dashiell shared this letter about ferry service:


You are listed as a Ferry Advisory Committee member for the San Juan Islands, hence this message.
Brief background: I’m Robert Dashiell, now live on Orcas Island, frequent WSF user, many routes. Frequent commenter on FROG.
Retired Naval Officer.
I base public transportation somewhat on my experiences in Europe, where public transportation traditionally runs on time.
I rode evening ferries from Anacortes to Orcas nearly every week this past winter season. The 7:10 and 9:05 were ALWAYS late … more than 2 hours at most, but 1-1.5 hours was a norm. That’s simply atrociously poor public transportation service unless there is fog, excessive wind, or a mechanical problem. And of course, they enforced the 30 minute in line rule to keep your reservation or go to the standby line. That seems absurd with persistently late ferries, especially with vessel watch available. 
Having experience on many routes, it was my observation that the loading crews were largely responsible. Almost every load at Anacortes involved multiple stop and goes with two lanes of ferry access. That rarely happens on other WSF routes. And it not a multi-destination problem … the crews just aren’t up to the same loading efficiencies.
But last night’s Ferry Virtually meeting reveal what is most likely the fundamental problem. The ferry service slowed the vessels to save fuel (Gov directed that action), and that was effective … their report to the state legislature states they used about 1.7 million fewer gallons of diesel. No problem with that, EXCEPT THEY KEPT THE SAME SAILING SCHEDULE!!!
Good grief … it’s a no brainer if the ferries are going at a slower transit speed all day, they are going to be perpetually late and it’s amplified as the day goes along.
I asked how many knots they slowed … WSF did not answer that part of the question. 
The ferry manager who answered the slowing question used the analogy of cars revving up for consecutive red lights … saying it just make sense to not gun it and then stop,  gun it and stop, etc. That’s laughable when you think about it … if you go slower from A to B, and slower from B to C, and slower from C to D, etc … it’s going to take more time since berthing time is not going to change. 
OK the ferries slow down, the sailing schedule stays the same. On-time performance drops off sharply andf gets worse as the day wears on. 
Like customers wait times aren’t all that  important to WSF. Commercial drivers delays (I only had to pay for a few) were $100 an hour …  ferry service doesn’t care. They don’t pay. And a number of those waits were in cold, wet, and windy weather. OK … your in a vehicle, but  damn it gets cold.
But the reason I’m writing this is the operations manager said they will look at the off-peak schedule sometime in the future, and that there would be a public process before that happens.
So I’m asking to you to use whatever small influence you might have as a San Juan ferry advisor to get the off-season schedule adjusted to a realistic sailing BEFORE the 2021-22 winter schedule is published. It’s not rocket science … they probably need to add 5 or so minutes to reach underway segment.
Robert Dashiell