— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) August 18, 2016
(August 2016 video showing one example of the problem the task force is hoping to fix)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In hopes of averting another summer of ferry-traffic-related misery from Morgan Junction to the Fauntleroy ferry dock, the Triangle Improvement Task Force has finished its first phase of work with two potential “quick wins,” finalized at the volunteers’ fifth meeting last night:
#1 – Speed up the average Fauntleroy tollbooth processing rate during pm peak hours, from three vehicles a minute to four vehicles a minute.
#2 – Make sure as many ferry customers as possible know what’s being done and how they can help.
As they reviewed the plans, the task-force members got a surprise visit from Washington State Ferries’ new leader, assistant WSDOT secretary Amy Scarton, who took over last month after the retirement of Lynne Griffith, who was in charge when the task-force idea was hatched.
More on her visit later. First:
The task force – three reps from each of the Triangle route’s three stops, Fauntleroy, Vashon Island, and Southworth – was formed to tackle problems that go further back than last summer, but the mile-plus backups were the proverbial last straw. WSF had first tried some procedure changes, but they failed and were scrapped.
So first WSF held a series of open-house meetings in the Triangle Route communities, including the one we covered last fall in Fauntleroy. Then, task force members were solicited, including one rep from each community’s pre-existing advisory group. And then they got to work (here’s our coverage of their first meeting in January).
At Monday’s meeting in the Fauntleroy Church Fellowship Hall, they started by reviewing a draft document of their recommendations:
*Improve tollbooth operations – Change Fauntleroy tollbooth operations and staffing during peak afternoon travel time (3 pm to 7 pm) in order to speed up vehicle processing. Right now, with one travel lane feeding into two tollbooths, three vehicles are processed per minute; they would like to speed that up to four vehicles/minute. The slower speed leads to ferries departing with space because they can’t wait longer for more vehicles to be processed.
*Public information campaign “to inform customers of timesaving travel strategies and upcoming changes.” Getting riders and drivers to buy tickets in advance, rather than at the tollbooth, is the primary strategy.
They reviewed the draft report, which went on into details of the resources that would be deployed to make “quick win” #1 happen – terminal attendants, tollbooth staff, Seattle police officer, dynamic message signs. The draft document dove into the details of roles for each person – three attendants (traffic splitter, traffic scanner, traffic director), two tollbooth staffers, one officer.
May 1st, WSF to create operational procedures within the guidelines recommended.
May-June, WSF testing, “modify as necessary before summer”
June – WSF to report to task force and public on pilot, final plan for summer
June 25th – new procedures to be implementd and observed for summer
September – WSF to report to task force and public at end of summer season
And then, it was on to discuss the public-awareness campaign that would make sure ferry users knew what’s happening, and why it’s important to buy tickets in advance – “saves time and allows faster processing” (toward that goal of increasing the number of vehicles per minute making it through the tollbooths).:
WSF’s Brian Mannion, who’s been facilitating the task-force meetings, said the campaign would start in April, including just about everything in the system’s communication toolbox, at terminals, on ferries, media releases, social media, e-mails and text alerts to customers.
Committee members also talked about synergizing with big events, and encouraging people to make advance ferry-ticket purchases part of planning for personal events too, like weddings. Also, outreach was suggested to major groups who may be going to events via ferries – Cascade Bicycle Club, for example.
“Your trip will go faster” if you help, is the motivating statement that one member suggested.
A bit of a catch, though: One task force member used his phone to see what was involved with advance ticket purchasing, and was not pleased with the experience. “Are you kidding?” he exclaimd. “I have to go find a printer?”
Well, Mannion said, you can buy tickets at kiosks or other ways.
“Say you have a wedding and those people go to kiosks – you haven’t solved your traffic problem!”
Staff in the room agreed that the mobile ticket-purchasing experience in particular needed some work. That wasn’t going to be solved in the meeting, so they moved on to discuss how results of the public-awareness campaign would be measured. Suggested criteria included:
*Before/after advance-sales comparison at Fauntleroy
*Tone of customer feedback
By April 10 – finalize key messages and timeline
By April 17 – start public awareness campaign
During the summer, when the task force is having “phase 2” meetings, they’ll get updates on how it’s going, and final results in October. Also discussed: Conditioning expectations, such as reminding ferry users that “factors including traffic volumes, vessel breakdowns, and remaining constraints could still lead to long wait times” and other inconveniences.
As the group wrapped up its review of the document spelling out the “quick wins,” Assistant Secretary Scarton got up – having arrived unannounced mid-meeting – and joined the task force at the table. Saying she was mostly there to thank them for their service, she also said she’s enjoying her new job, and she said she’s working to learn about the issues: “I don’t live on the Triangle route, I have some relatives who do – this is my third visit to Fauntleroy in the last 50 days, so I’m trying to make this a priority. … When I took this job, Lynne Griffith told me about the task force and how important it would be … I think you guys are in great hands. … We want to have the best ferry system we can for our customers … I know we’re in a tough operating set of circumstances here … but a lot of folks are paying attention to this.”
Scarton also provided an update on how her division is doing in Olympia, saying that WSF had “a lot of asks this budget cycle,” for more employees, new funds for ticketing, dispatch, apprenticeships, “and a lot of those were met.” She said WSF “did fairly well in this legislative cycle … but we’re not finished.” She said they had worked to revive the “ferry caucus” of legislators whose districts include ferry routes/terminals.
After her visit, and a break, the task force talked about the scope of its second phase, items that were tabled because they wouldn’t have been accomplishable before summer – such as schedule tweaks, which had “too many stakeholders” for rapid changes, Mannion noted.
One task-force member said the schedule must be revisited because it’s nowhere near realistic for people who work close to business hours – getting from Southworth to downtown Seattle by 9 am, she said, is impossible.
Another long-range goal: Figuring how to consistently fill the ferries before they leave.
With that, one task force member observed, people will still be “frustrated” to see ferries pull out with space remaining, so the system will have to come up with a way to explain why that’s happening.
Mannion also announced that he would be shifting roles, and WSF’s Hadley Rodero would be facilitating/coordinating the task force, along with working on the upcoming update of the system’s Long-Range Plan, last updated in 2009.
Starting in summer, the task force will resume meeting, but this time monthly instead of every two weeks, the “aggressive” schedule on which it had been working.
But first, members will give their final approval to the draft document spelling out their “quick wins” by the end of this week – and then you can watch for an official announcement.