Packed House for Ferry Reservation Town Hall

The following notes were taken at Tuesday’s Reservation meeting by Ann Palmer of Lopez Island.

The May 19 Town Hall meeting to discuss the ferry reservation system was standing room only. The meeting was hosted by San Juan County Council members Jamie Stephens and Rick Hughes (council liaison to the Ferry Advisory Committee [FAC]), Washington State Ferries (WSF) officials Susan Harris-Huether, WSF senior customer service manager and WSF Vehicle Reservations Program Manager Brian Churchwell, and Ferry Advisory Committee member John Whetten from Lopez. Other FAC members were in the audience. The audience was attentive and involved in all the discussions in a civil and orderly manner.

John Whetten covered some history of the reservation system from the mandate from the legislature in 2007 to the present. The process for the FAC included 12 half-day meetings over a two-year period. Whetten said the system is always short of resources and some of the tradeoffs the FAC grapples with, and compromises that are made, are geared to sharing the burden in a system that’s not perfect for anyone.

Churchwell presented statistics from the first three months of 2015 and talked about the implementation – some things that had been done right and some problems that had been addressed. His presentation included the following facts:

  • 97% of reservations are used on the day of the reservation
  • 60% of travel is with reservations

91,000+ vehicles traveled thru 3/31/15

Spring Break (2 week period):

  • 8% reduction in capacity in the system over 2014
  • 6.4% increase in traffic
  • 21% decrease in overloaded sailings
  • 63% decrease in number of vehicles overloaded
  • 87% of reservations were made online

County Councilman Jamie Stephens takes questions from the audience on Lopez Island

The WSF managers feel that they are better able to schedule their staff because they know what traffic patterns will be. 22% of reservation holders arrive less than 30 minutes before sailing. Right now, WSF is flexible and honors reservations if possible. 29% of reservations are cancelled the day before the sailing date (to avoid no-show fee).

About 45 minutes into the meeting it was opened for Questions and Answers. Several people spoke in support of the reservation system; there were a few others who felt the reservation system was not needed and wanted to return to the way it was before. A number of people recounted problems they had experienced. There were some suggestions and other questions regarding problems with the website, and other elements of the reservation system:

  • Multiple reservations per account? (yes, it’s allowed)
  • Commercial vehicles – have had reservations for over 10 years. If they missed a boat, their reservation was honored on the next ferry. This is no longer the case and creates problems for drivers (exceed allowed DOT hours)
  • Website suggestions (hard to find the buttons, dialogue too long and cumbersome)
  • Cases of people having to turn around and come back later (hard for large trucks), being put in the wrong lane and not getting on the ferry they expected, etc.
  • Criticism of road approaching the ferry toll booths – need two lanes? Need to eliminated the second ticket booth, which acts as a bottleneck
  • Food at Lopez Landing – they are planning to put in vending machines – not sure if there are other plans to find a vendor
  • Friday Harbor cars being loaded and Lopez cars left on some sailings which still had space
  • Samish (new ferry) will replace the Hyak
  • Folks from Friday Harbor and Orcas taking the interisland ferry to Lopez where they can get on without a reservation. Other stories of people from Lopez going to Orcas so they can have a reservation to get off the island
  • Question about credit card security
  • Quotas – are adjusted every season – not an easy process (FAC plays a big role in this)
  • Website needs to clarify the tiered approach
  • WSF is working on possible changes and improvements to the website, but these will not happen until after the summer season
  • Schedule interruptions when a scheduled ferry is not operational. WSF will try to honor all reservations on the next available boat and will relax the rules about charging no-show fees
  • Priority for locals? According to John Whetten, this is not legal because at least half of the costs of running the ferry system come from all the residents of the state
  • Reservations are difficult for those without computers or for whom English is a second language,
  • System has a lot of complexities – is hard for everyone to understand and hard to manage all the variations (lobby to return to first come/first served)
  • Suggestion to ferry reservation system users to print out and laminate your ferry reservation account bar code. If you sign up for an account, the same barcode is used on every reservation

At the conclusion of the meeting, Churchwell suggested there be another meeting like this one at the end of the summer season; there was agreement from the audience.

Presentation slides:


One thought on “Packed House for Ferry Reservation Town Hall

  1. Mary Wondra

    Was unable to attend the meeting. Appreciate the factual outline of issues brought up. However, no information on any replies to issues. Am I missing something?


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