By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Waiting in line is something Vashon Islanders are used to.
It’s an unavoidable part of getting on board ferries to get to and from the island.
Wednesday, more than 200 of them spent time in a different kind of line – one to get a seat in a meeting.
The Washington State Ferries Triangle Route Task Force met to review the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth’s first major schedule overhaul in more than a decade.
It was a workshop, not a decision-making meeting – the task force and the Ferry Advisory Committees whose other members participated are advisory, and WSF management has the final say. But tensions with island residents had long been at a high-water mark, dating back to the task force’s initial task of working with WSF on persistent problems with Fauntleroy backups. Vashon riders suggested solutions that weren’t tried. Some feel the schedule-overhaul process has gone the same way. That led to this sign outside Wednesday’s meeting:
Outside is where some would-be attendees had to stay, once the meeting room was at capacity, which was 179 people, per WSF’s meeting facilitator, Hadley Rodero.
For a standing-room-only meeting, it was mostly civil – with just one real flash of fury, and that wasn’t even instigated by attendees. We’ll get there, but first, here’s how it unfolded.
We recorded it on video, in two parts – first, the staff presentations and task force discussion:
“The culmination of two years of work,” is how WSF’s government-relations coordinator John Vezina, the official “sponsor” of the task force, described it.
He added, “We have responsibilities to all three communities on the route. … We’ve done our best to create an equitable schedule.”
Here’s the slide deck from the meeting, including the newest proposed revision (page 15), made public one night earlier:
Rodero recapped what led up to this point, including a revision that was circulated for comment in late October/early November, with 300 people attending three public meetings and 339 comments received. (A summary of those comments was made public last night.)
#1 theme, “Fix the Fauntleroy terminal (situation)”
Vashon sailings via Southworth
PM commute concerns for Southworth vanpoolers
Support for “pendulum” schedule (all sailings go to both destinations, in east-west/west-east order)
Concern about emergency service access
WSF service-planning manager Justin Resnick recapped what changes were made to the draft schedule in response to those comments. A 5:05 pm Vashon to Fauntleroy sailing was added for convenience of people who need to get to the mainland for evening events, afterschool activities. They also added an 8:55 am departure from Southworth to cover what was a big gap. Resnick said they re-balanced some commitments of new allotments.
A Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee member asked how a 4:10 pm sailing “in the opposite direction” would affect traffic. Resnick mentioned the problem “with some boats leaving with capacity unfilled,” if some boats are going to one destination only.
One committee member said that the changes might make driving more attractive to the people living on the Southworth side. “If we have more people sailing with us, we view that as a good thing,” said Resnick.
First committee member said she’s impressed with the adjustments. Next committee member observed that there’s no way “to make everybody happy on this route.”
Responding to another committee member’s question, Resnick indicated that they would be watching closely o see how this works – “really, really closely, especially for the first four weeks,” so that if anything needs to be adjusted, it can be done in time for the busy summer season’s schedule. He was asked about allotments, which haven’t been revised in 4+ years, but, in his view, should be revisited every year or so.
Another committee member wondered about the “pendulum schedule” proposed by Vashon residents Steve Stockett and Rick Wallace. Resnick noted that a few upcoming slides would address that.
A new committee member from Southworth said he’s “happy” and “excited about” the new schedule.
Another committee member noted that Vashon residents are dependent on the ferry service and this new schedule “lower(s) their ability to use it.” Resnick said the “morning allotted period” did not significantly change the split between how much capacity went to Vashon and how much to Southworth (roughly two-thirds/one-third split). A Southworth committee member on the phone expressed capacity concern. Another member noted many variables change on the route. Performance monitoring is vital, WSF management also was told. And a Vashon FAC member acknowledged the “heavily politicized environment” in which the ferry system’s been working. “Those of us who live on Vashon are keenly aware ha we have no other transportation options” for getting off-island, and are therefore very aware that a “chipp(ing) away” of allotments will affect them. He also suggested that Stockett’s work “deserves a lot of consideration” and that drew applause. Also: The schedule change is neither an “apocalypse” nor a “panacea.”
After taking task force/FAC comments, Resnick then addressed the concerns about emergency medical coordination. He said they talked with emergency services providers and that the new schedule has capacity to handle a slightly higher number of medical transports/evacuations.
WSF’s Ray Deardorf then acknowledged the Stockett/Wallace work on the pendulum schedule – “where all the vessels make all the stops in both directions.” But he listed a variety of reasons why WSF doesn’t think it would work, including 30 percent fewer arrivals (7 compared to 10) in Fauntleroy during the morning commute, and 20 percent fewer departures (8 compared to 10) in the pm.
How will the new schedule be monitored once it’s being followed? Resnick said they’ll watch over the next few years, not just in the first few weeks, vital considering that this is the first major schedule overhaul in a decade an a half. They will monitor:
-Customer interactions (in person, on phone, etc.)
-Delays and cancellations
They’re also “exploring” different ways of measuring wait times. “Future opportunities for schedule adjustments” will include the addition “in the early 2020s” of a foot ferry from Southworth to downtown Seattle, plus the Fauntleroy Terminal “reconstruction” planned for 2027, and technology changes.
One committee/task force member wanted more details on the latter. Vezina didn’t think anything was on the immediate horizon, though 2 new vessels and 2 hybrid-electric conversions are expected to be in Gov. Inslee’s budget plan (which has since been made public – in the “clean transportation” section).
Then WSF’s Genevieve Rucki provided a Fauntleroy terminal update – the current terminal was built in 1957. In early 2019 they will start assembling the team,she said, and a processthat will rely on “extensie community engagement and stakeholders.” Construction is currently expected 2025-2027. Rodero said they’ll go beyond what’s required for public engagement – maybe even come up with a new skateholder group.
Also mentioned: Next Monday, the University of Washington group that was tasked by the Legislature with studying this route will present its report, though Vezina said he does not believe it’ll address scheduling issues.
PUBLIC COMMENT: By this point, after an hour an a half, the room had half-emptied, and Rodero said 10 people had signed up to speak. Some of them had left before it was comment time. We recorded the comments on video:
Vashon Island Fire Chief Charlie Krimmert said he wanted to talk about something aside from emergency services: “This is our only road. … I have to get my staff home” – part paid, part volunteer. “When they leave the island to take a patient to the hospital,” Krimmert said, getting the patient off the island is not the problem, getting the staff back is. They have a 15 percent increase in concurrent calls, taking two of their four ambulances, and sometimes those ambulances have to wait hours for the next ferry from Fauntleroy.
Next, Vashon’s Rick Wallace said, “Steve Stockett and I have been working on this for a long time as free consultants to the ferry system.” He said the schedule could be “even better. … What we tried to understand is, how could we use this limited resource more efficiently?” The “wiggle room” was in waiting in line. “What I’m prepared to offer to you – for the 13th time – is a work session, “devoted to “how fast we can move people through.” Wallace said the two 34th District state legislators observing the meeting – Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and Sen.-elect Joe Nguyen – have volunteered to be independent observers if that work session happens.
At that point, one task-force member, Andrew Hamilton, rose to say that they’d been working on this for two years and he thought it’s not right that the people in the gallery hadn’t shown up for meetings.
Another man said that dwell times are a problem and at least one other WSF terminal – Anacortes – “runs like a Swiss watch.” He also angrily addressed task force member Hamilton with the assertion that he has been present at previous meetings.
Dick Falkenbury suggested redesigning boats (and docks) so there are four lines on and off rather than two, he said.
Another fire commissioner asked WSF to meet with them.
A Vashon resident, Nancy, said she is not sure how people can be OK with losing departures.
Another Vashon resident questioned how WSF figured that more car capacity is going to Vashon in the morning and would like them to “publish the math.” He also said that the emphasis on Fauntleroy departures in the pm is costing WSF money. He also wants to see WSF “count Southworth motorcycles against the Southworth allotment.” He says those motorcycles “are eating into the Vashon allotment.” And he thinks that using Good For Go would solve a lot of problems. “This is not a particularly difficult problem,” and WSF should get a grant to try a pilot project.
At that point, more people left because a bus of Vashon residents was announced as departing at 6:45.
One more commenter said he wanted to know what WSF is doing about holiday shutdowns because of short-staffing. He had other questions including data that the system might have used to come up with the new schedule. “Somebody has to ask the tough questions,” he wrapped up. “Am I at the end of my time?? I think I have a ferry to catch.”
Last to comment: A woman who said issues will remain such as “traffic at Fauntleroy” and that traffic from Souhworth will increase traffic through West Seattle because there is no other way for them to get to downtown Seattle. “I don’t think the panacea is having all the traffic go hrough Fauntleroy.” Traffic out of West Seattle “is already bumper to bumper,” she said.
WHAT’S NEXT: Comments on the revised proposed schedule will be taken through Tuesday (December 18) – WSFPlanning@wsdot.wa.gov is the address. The new schedule is expected to go online February and start March 31st.