Here are notes from the WSF community meeting of 12-1-11. This is a compilation from notes taken by several people who attended the meeting in Friday Harbor. Thanks to all contributors.
Opening of meeting: Welcome by Howie Rosenfeld and David Moseley who also introduced his staff and provided an overview of the agenda. Each separate item is numbered.
Handouts for the meeting are all available at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/CommuterUpdates/pub_meetings
Governor’s Task Force: David Moseley began by saying that WSF currently not financially sustainable. Referred to handout (Transfer Sources are Depleted) and explanation of how expenditures have been met to date. Here is a quick summary of the information presented:
Account Balances will move from a positive number of $9.85 Million in the 2011-2013 Biennium to a $8.6 Million deficit in the 2019-2021 Biennium. The Puget Sound Ferry Operations Account shows moving from a positive number of $8.44 Million in the 2011-2013 Biennium to a $309.83 Million deficit in the 2019 -2021 Biennium. Puget Sound Capital Construction Account shows balances moving from a positive number of $2.13 Million in the 2011-2013 Biennium to $1,012 Billion deficit in the 2019-2021 Biennium. The current trend clearly demonstrates that current funding levels will not support the ferry system operating and capital budgets.
The Connecting Washington Task Force was appointed after last session to try to deal with this. Referenced chart on handout that shows diminishing income for WSF. Task force has met four times. Clearly outlined in task force mandate that they are to deal with the ferry situation.
Most recent task force meeting has been the most productive. Mr. Moseley referenced survey results in double-sided handout which shows key findings of survey. Survey results are statistically significant. Pointed out items four and seven. Back page of this handout talks about ferries specifically. There is broad, statewide support for the ferry system.
Then task force dealt with financial picture for statewide transportation system. Mr. Moseley believes that task force will at least support maintaining the system, if not growing it. He also believes that this is a message of hope and thinks there will be a package that includes revenues. If this occurs, this is this first hurdle. Task force recommendations go to the legislature. That will be the second hurdle. The final hurdle is that plan must be approved by electorate. Website address for task force is on handout. There is a public comment link on their site. Please use it! Stay engaged, please.
Public comment. Susan Young asked if it would be possible to video conferencing task force meetings so we can participate. Gordon Jonasson asked if there is really any point in contacting task force members. David Moseley said yes, that task force members are referencing public comments. Susan Muckle wants to be sure that we work with other parts of the state to deal with statewide system. David Moseley says there is a growing recognition that ferries are part of a statewide transportation system. We need revenue, that challenge needs to be bridged. Residents support efforts to raise revenue.
2. Reservation system: David Moseley stated that the proposed reservation system arose out of a problem related to holding areas and that legislature asked for this to be reviewed. A predesign study was done. Initially focused on Edmonds Kingston route because it had commuters, tourists, and commercial. A group that met in 2009 was asked to develop “Business Rules” that would have to be in place for a reservation system to be successful on the route. Membership included people who did, and who didn’t want a reservation system and there were eight to ten meetings during which the group worked through issues. At the end of the process, group recommended implementing a phased reservation system.
Now in Phase 1, 2011-12. Existing reservation system is inadequate for Port Townsend, Sydney, commercial for San Juan Islands.
Reference to proprietary software to run system. Nothing new has been implemented because group hasn’t yet agreed it will work. Current goal is to implement reservations on Port Townsend runs in 2012 summer.
Phase 2 begins in 2013. Community partnership group begins then. Will not implement a system until WSF knows it will work, but documents posted online say by 2015. Can’t start in San Juan’s until Phase 1 is done.
Phase 3 most complex because the Central Sound routes include a significant commuter base.
Public comment. Gordon Jonasson spoke first. He read an e-mail into the record from John Whetten who was not able to attend the meeting in person. In the email John pointed out that with the four direct sailings provided during the 2011 Summer Schedule, that traffic was handled efficiently, and with minimal overloading. He questioned the need to incur significant expenses to develop necessary computer systems and costly capital expenses that would be required to separate reservation/non-reservation traffic at the Lopez Terminal. Mr. Moseley responded that there still were overloads on the Thanksgiving Day week-end. Gordon acknowledged that there were overloads on Sunday, 11/27/11, starting with the 1:35 PM Lopez-only sailing, however, that was largely due to the fact that the 90-car Sealth covered that run. This in turn caused a cascading of overloads for the 3:05 PM and 5 PM sailings. Gordon pointed out that with a larger 144-car ferry the overloading situation would have been avoided, or at the minimum greatly reduced Gordon further stated that the overwhelming preference of Lopezians was for the direct sailings over the reservation system.
Susan Young asked about cost of in-house software versus off the shelf. David Moseley said creating their own has been cheaper and the budget could be made public. Sharon (?) from San Juan asked about going back to milk runs and fewer direct boats. Ray Deardorf explained how this last summer’s schedule was best on record. Overall schedule had more capacity.
Public comment continued with Jim Corenman who said there is no easy right answer. Beverly Zapalac asked about how residents who do not have Internet and who do not have credit cards will use the reservation system. David Moseley said there will be a phone number, but credit card questioned not answered. Susan Muckle pointed out that we must have cars once we leave the island so walking on isn’t always an option.
3. Fare media study: David Moseley talked about looking at interoperability with three existing state systems. Referenced the handout and said that the study to be completed by Jan. 2012. This could result in changes in how fares are set and collected. Moseley pointed out that this is not a WSF initiated drive, but is essential to WSF. Kathy Booth asked why Wave2Go booth not really implemented and if the system has ever been evaluated. David Moseley says the system does provide more data to WSF. However, he also said that no official assessment of Wave2Go has been done. He also stated that there have been no audit findings since Wave2Go implemented.
4. Liquified natural gas (LNG): Fuel is fastest growing component of operating budget—now 29% of the budget. LNG could significantly reduce costs. LNG costs about $1.02 to $1.32 per gallon, WSF is currently paying over $3.37/gallon for diesel. There is a handout. LNG is greener and would get WSF to Coast Guard tier 4 level (which is a requirement by 2016), but it won’t happen tomorrow. Might be new boats or retrofitting old boats—this would be the Issaquah class (nearly 1/3 of all existing boats). What was not included was an estimate of what retrofitting would cost. Beverly Zapalac asked where LNG comes from. David Moseley stated it would probably be trucked from Vancouver, BC.
5. Kwa-di Tabil class update: David Moseley said the most recent boats just replaced the Steel Electric class boats and that they are working well. He said they came in under budget and ahead of time. He said the legislature budgeted $213 million and that the last boat wasn’t to be delivered until in early 2012. However, it was delivered in late 2011. He also stated that WSF did not over-manage construction of these last boats.
A 144-car boat is being built and will be finished in Feb. of 2014. He hopes that, through the task force, additional funding will be provided. This boat will replace the Evergreen State. No questions.
6. Local issues: Ray Deardorf reported that home health care providers now will get priority loading.
This is something from the legislature. The handouts also include a new draft of an emergency backup plan that shows what will happen now that the 64-car boats are available. He was not sure that this draft is available online. He also reported that WSF staff and the local FAC have talked about this past summer’s schedule and the upcoming winter schedule. He mentioned that individuals from Lopez tend to use the ferries more frequently (even though overall Lopez use may not be as high as larger islands), perhaps because they must leave the island for services not available on Lopez.