By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
At one point during last night’s inaugural meeting of the new Washington State Ferries Triangle Improvement Task Force, its nine volunteer members were reminded why they were there:
One of the WSF staffers painted a verbal picture of the longrunning frustration with trouble on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth (aka Triangle) route peaked on hot summer days, in idling cars, backed-up traffic, with people furious over delays in getting home to their families, even as part-empty boats departed in an effort to catch up to the schedule.
In contrast, the new citizens advisory committee convened in the quiet, comfortable confines of the Fauntleroy Church Fellowship Hall, with four WSF employees and a handful of onlookers.
The pressure was palpable, though – they have two months to come up with “quick wins” along the road to fixing the route.
But not costly quick wins, they were cautioned – ferries already has had to make cuts and doesn’t know how the Legislature will deal with the budget proposal that’s before it right now.
“It’s a big, kind-of-aggressive lift you have ahead of you,” WSF director of operations Greg Faust warned the task force members as they settled in their seats. They were told they can have up to six meetings to get something planned and done before summer (four are currently scheduled – more on that later).
Faust told the task force that he’s a longtime ship’s master but he’s been focused on the terminals “because they’ve been kind of a mess … all three terminals have their own issues … this small, undersized terminal we have here in Fauntleroy is a challenge …the little things we’ve tried [to fix it] here and there have failed. So we’ve thrown our hands up and decided to listen to the folks [who use it] day after day.”
They’re looking for “quick wins …before summer … and it doesn’t matter which area it involves. … there’s really nothing that’s off the table.” Well, unless it hinders safety, he qualified.
With only one “service relief vessel ….the mighty Tillikum that’s out there running today,” they’re also hoping for no breakdowns. It’s THE standby vessel, but doesn’t “work” in many places, due to its capacity (though it filled in at Bainbridge and Bremerton). They’ll be taking possession of Chimacum in “a month or so” and will need to have the Suquamish going to have something of a cushion.
“Good luck to you – we’re here to help, and if you need any resources … data, boots on the ground, whatever,” just ask, he said.
Also at the meeting, representing WSF, were senior planning manager Ray Deardorf and government-relations manager John Vezina (the standing Ferry Advisory Committee’s lead liaison), and, facilitating, Brian Mannion from WSF Communications.
The task force’s members were asked to introduce and describe themselves a bit.
Kym Shepherd of Southworth: A problem-solver, works on litigation.
Gary Dawson of Fauntleroy noted he has a view of the ferry dock from his house. “We love it here, so we felt we had to get engaged,” and has long been on the Fauntleroy Community Association board, and got involved in the Ferry Advisory Committee. “I would like to see it work more efficiently on the dock.”
Steve Merkel of Vashon said he has been on the island about a year and a half, has a preschooler and a newborn baby, spent a decade-plus “as a working mariner” and is now an occupational-health specialist.
Tim O’Mahony of Southworth said he’s been with the Seattle Fire Department for 27 years, mostly driving a fire engine, has been commuting to Seattle since 2001. “I would like to see the ferries full …This is a state highway, and it’s broke, and we need to fix it.”
Kathleen Stephanick of Fauntleroy said she lives five houses away from the dock, 20+ years in West Seattle. “My family uses the ferry quite a bit,” including kids taking the ferry to Vashon schools, and frequent visits to the Olympic Peninsula. Former environmental consultant. “Fauntleroy cannot be backed up all the way to Morgan Junction …it’s unsafe.”
Hugh Turner of Vashon said his wife was born and raised in West Seattle, and that he had been a deck officer in merchant marine, container ships and tankers.”Success would be to me the same short- or long-term … minimize delays in queue, cars and passengers, subject to your budget and safety concerns.”
Richard Wheeler of Southworth works downtown as an engineer, has a construction background, grew up in Florida, father of three, one son going into Navy, daughter living in West Seattle, and says success would equal efficiency.
Margaret Clements of Fauntleroy lives a few houses from the ferry and is a retired pediatrician who hopes the discussions are congenial and lead to “actionable items arrived at by good conversation.”
Greg Beardsley is chair of Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee. “Riding this route since 1954, driving it since 1960-something,” lived in Fauntleroy for a while, mom rode the ferry in 1930s, worked in environmental and maritime businesses. First goal to not have a line on the street, “serve all the communities better.”
After introductions, they spent time on ground rules: Mannion had reminders and cautions- “we represent all three communities … you have a dual role… to represent the concerns of your community, and to (reach consensus)” … does not necessarily mean unanimous support for everything.
The group’s charter includes: “This team’s purpose is to recommend strategies to improve service on the Triangle Route for customers and neighbors.”
That said – “WSF will make the final decision on what if any, recommendations to implement based on feasibility, effectiveness and available resources. WSF commits to being transparent and upfront about how it intends to assess the task force’s recommendations.”
In order to get that quick-win list, they need to arrive at recommendations by April 1st.
And they have set four more meetings to get there – meetings that will likely run 2 1/2 hours, since the work needs to be intense. The group agreed to meet every two weeks at 4:30 pm at the same location (Fauntleroy Church, 9140 California SW) – February 13 and 27, March 13 and 27.
Before adjourning, the task-force members were asked to write down any questions they had, and two ideas “if you could pick two ideas to work on.” But they weren’t read aloud – they were given to facilitator Mannion. They’ll apparently be part of the online recap that they were promised would appear within two days (likely on this page).