The following message was send out by the Ferry Community Partnership. I am sharing it here in its entirety. The message is important, particularly for those of us who have no drive-around options when boats fail.
WA Ferry Coalition Members: Please see below Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent’s My Turn Op-Ed in the April 18thKitsap Sun urging passage of the transportation package and funding for new ferry construction to improve ferry fleet reliability. Please continue to Email your legislators and ask them to pass the transportation package and ferry funding.Email addresses for all legislators are available here.
Washington’s ferry system, the largest in the country, is an iconic symbol of the state and one of its best transportation values. Building new ferries is prudent and essential, not an option.
Like any another segment of vital transportation infrastructure, the ferry system needs to be reliable, which requires maintenance and upkeep.
Both the House and Senate have taken steps to approve a transportation package this year to pay for major improvements in many areas of the state. Differing communities and populations have different mobility needs. By far the largest share in both the House and Senate proposals would go to roads and bridges. Both proposals also include funds for another new Washington State ferry, a needed improvement for our marine highway.
We all need to encourage the House and Senate to reach agreement on a final package.
Ferries provide significant transportation value for many reasons. The system collects a higher percentage of operating revenue from fares (about 67 percent) by far than do bus and rail systems. Replacing ferries with bridges would be wildly cost-prohibitive and virtually impossible because of environmental and other concerns. Without ferries, many communities currently served by them would see their economies wither. Ferries are not only the state’s top tourist attraction, but also a lifeline for commuters and many businesses.
Washington also gets longer life — an expected 60 years — out of its ferries than most other systems in the world.
In 2014 the system carried 23.2 million total riders, up 2.7 percent from 2013. There were 10.2 million vehicles on board and 6.7 million walk-on foot passengers.
The fleet needs to be kept up-to-date because when a ferry goes offline in one area, it can have repercussions for the entire system. Vessels need to be pulled aside for maintenance, and breakdowns occur.
In the last decade the state tried to extend the life of three of ferries to 80 years; the consequence was nearly a disaster. The Steel Electric ferries were suddenly pulled off the water when it was discovered they were finally no longer fit to serve. That had repercussions throughout the system, especially in Port Townsend, which lost all service for a while and went two full years before full service was restored.
Since then the state has been building ferries one at a time, but at that pace, in a system with 23 vessels, many of which have been serving for decades, it takes time to get caught up.
Washington’s two oldest ferries still in regular service are 57 and 56 years respectively. The Evergreen State was retired last year at age 60 but brought back into service two weeks later when another ferry broke down with a serious issue that required six months to fix.
Washington has five more ferries now serving their 48th year. Most other ferry systems retire vessels after 40 years. One of the 48-year-olds, the Hiyu, which ironically in the Chinook language means “plenty,” is by far the slowest and smallest in the fleet. Its only practical role is as a backup, but even then it has less than half the capacity of any other ferry.
The state’s oldest ferries have trouble keeping up during heavy traffic or after delays from issues such as emergency medical transports. When one vessel is behind a little bit, a car stalls on a boat or there is a long line somewhere, the affect can compound to alter schedules for vessels and users throughout the system. It can be extremely frustrating, resulting in hours of delay.
Investing in ferries built here in Washington is not like providing tax breaks on the promise of keeping jobs in this state. It not only funds great family-wage jobs with certainty, but importantly buys the state tangible assets that serve as critical links in our transportation system and economy for up to 60 years.
Patty Lent is mayor of the city of Bremerton.