Washington State Ferries’ Triangle Task Force ‘at a crossroads’ as schedule-change plan nears

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The Triangle Route Task Force is at a crossroads – should it continue or wrap up?

It was created early this year with the expectations its members would commit a year to tackling some of the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route’s challenges.

But now Washington State Ferries says it’s time to tackle a big one – revamping the Triangle Route’s schedules – and thinking the task force might want to hang around and help.

That was one big topic at tonight’s meeting, which started 15 minutes late because the ferries were running late, not because of a Fauntleroy backup like the ones that have caused so much past trouble, but because of what WSF alerts described as an “offloading problem” on Vashon.

First – the group’s executive “sponsor” from WSF is now John Vezina, because the scope of its work has moved away from how things work at the dock. Several other WSF managers were present today; facilitating again was WSF’s Hadley Rodero, supported by Justin Fujioka, also from the WSF Communications team.

CHANGING THE SCHEDULE: The WSF reps now say this will happen – it wasn’t voiced in such certain terms earlier this year. The numbers reviewed included these:

As shown, Fauntleroy/Southworth traffic has jumped – it’s now 33 percent of the Triangle Route’s traffic, 8.5% more than a year earlier. Fauntleroy/Vashon and Vashon/Southworth are both down.

You can find the ridership stats on the WSF website, it was noted, along with this observation: The “increase in proportion of Southworth-bound traffic makes Vashon-only sailings more difficult to load.”

61 percent of Fauntleroy-Vashon vehicles used multi-ride cards during first 10 months of the year, and that’s the highest percentage in the system.

It’s down to 32 percent for Fauntleroy/Southworth. And the number of walk-ons using multi-ride cards or monthly passes are far lower.

Some vessel changes past and future were recapped – including that in 2019, the 124-car Kitsap is scheduled to replace 90-car Sealth, and that’s a big reason why WSF says the schedules need to change:

WSF also offered this preliminary timeline of redeveloping the schedule between now and having it take effect in “late March 2019.”

Some of the issues “to explore” in looking at schedule changes:

Afternoon dwell time at Fauntleroy, potential for more dual-destination sailings
Filling the boats
Morning – more direct sailings from Southworth to Fauntleroy
Two-boat schedule modifications

Those were suggested by public comments; WSF also is interested in looking at:

Schedules before/after the afternoon peak
Spring/fall weekend schedule

Many community meetings and comment opportunities will be part of the process.

Will the task force be involved in the schedule overhaul? That depends on the results of the discussion that was initiated earlier in the meeting. Vezina declared the group to be at “a little bit of a crossroads.” With the group finishing its first year, and WSF management would appreciate anyone continuing “if you choose to.” They could just meet in December and January as planned, and break up. Or, they could get involved with the two big projects ahead – overhauling the schedule (as noted above) and working on the system’s Long-Range Plan.

They also could have a “more open-ended term,” he suggested, since WSF also is embarking on a multi-year process of looking at the Fauntleroy dock, which is scheduled to be rebuilt in 2025 – this too will require many community meetings and an environmental review.

Nobody was willing to immediately declare they’re done. One member had a question about how the task force’s work is supposed to synergize with the work of each community’s Ferry Advisory Committee. (Some of the task-force members are also FAC members.) Vezina said that each one of the FACs is responsible for surfacing that specific area’s concerns, while the Task Force is giving more of a “system perspective … nine people who’ve done a deep dive into the route.”

During this part of the discussion, he referred several times to “conspiracy theories” apparently circulating somewhere; earlier, he mentioned the prospect of public-disclosure requests for more information on communication involving the task force. During the discussion of the group’s future, one member said she’s bewildered by the interest in who the task-force members are.

One Fauntleroy member said he didn’t feel they had yet done what they had set out to do – no data on how the route has changed. He lives near the ferry dock. Another member, from Vashon, said he felt they had made progress and that it was a much-more-productive group than his FAC. And recent Vashon addition Kari Ulatoski, who also is on the Vashon FAC, talked about the lifeline that ferry service represents, and that there is a “great deal of concern based on those needs and services,” fear from people worried that schedule changes “may threaten the ability for Vashon to get on those vessels.” People on Vashon are “concerned they are going to be losing runs.” Ulatoski said she’s interested in continuing but is also “concerned about mission creep.” She said she would like to find a commonality between the FAC, the task force, and groups on the island that are taking an active role in at least monitoring this work.

Rodero suggested the task force should make a final decision at its next meeting – December 13th – whether or not to continue.

After the task force spent some time reviewing a proposed FAQ document about the route and its challenges, some time was left for public comment from the handful of observers in the meeting room at Fauntleroy Church.

One attendee spoke up to take issue with a critique that a task force member, not present, had reportedly given to Vashon participants at last month’s public meetings – suggesting that Vashon attendees were paranoid and hostile, while Southworth participants were described as constructive – and that dovetailed into Vezina’s mentions of “conspiracy theories” tonight. “I heard you, and we’re watching, and I hope going forward that kind of language can be left at the door.”

Another Vashon attendee, describing herself as a business owner, said that there’s an economic impact of the route’s problems – most Vashon businesses surveyed recently reported it had affected them and cost them money, including dealing with employees and suppliers getting stuck waiting for ferries. She said she’s even considered moving her business off the island to get free of the extra costs.

Both of them pleaded for increased communication.

Another Vashon resident stood up and he too said it’s “incredibly unfortunate” the way some are perceiving the request for more information about task force members: “Because you’re not the only smart, talented people who are trying to make it better.”

Vezina at that point apologized for the “conspiracy theory” terminology but said “it is descriptive of the kind of feedback I get.”

Another attendee noted a brief WSF staff mention earlier in the meeting about Fauntleroy dock repaving that’s going to be done soon and wondered why that’s being done if the dock is to be replaced. The paving wouldn’t last until the replacement work in 2025, it was explained.

Finally, a Fauntleroy resident said he considered this to be a very valuable forum so that “everybody can be better informed in all three locations … I hope you can continue on.”

We should find out next month if that will happen. The December 13th meeting is set for 4:30-7 pm, again at Fauntleroy UCC (9140 California SW); watch here for info between meetings.

6 Replies to "Washington State Ferries' Triangle Task Force 'at a crossroads' as schedule-change plan nears"

  • Commuter November 10, 2017 (2:50 pm)

    Just hurry up and build a new, bigger dock. Everything else is just a bandaid.

  • dougroyweaver@yahoo.com November 10, 2017 (3:55 pm)

    Its three times as hard when its a triangle. 

  • Susan Riemer November 10, 2017 (5:05 pm)

    West Seattle Blog Editor: Just a small correction. The man who said this group was more productive than his FAC was from Southworth, not Vashon. 

    • WSB November 10, 2017 (5:26 pm)

      Thank you. Though I’ve covered more than a few previous meetings, without a round of going-around-the-room intros, it’s still a bit of a challenge to keep track of who’s who (especially since there’s been some turnover). – TR

  • Philip Menees November 11, 2017 (3:09 pm)

    It’s time to look beyond Fauntleroy and start developing a new terminal at the container hard just west of the Duwamish river. All this money spent at pier 52 is questionable.  Fauntleroy will forever be a bottle neck. Southworth and Bremerton need to be  combined to a facility at Clam bay where the EPA facility is now.  Kitsap transit then can continue to wave the flag of passenger ferry out of Bremerton.  Not enough room for all the advantages of this plan.

     

    • Wseattlite November 12, 2017 (9:57 pm)
      • All Bremerton traffic goes over the West Seattle Bridge?  No thanks. 

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