Notes from Lopez reservations public outreach meeting

Here are my notes from Wednesday night’s WSF reservations public outreach meeting. Approximately 50 Lopezians were in attendance.

WSF Staff:

  • Brian Churchwell, VRS Program Manager
  • Kristina Arsenault, Director of Community Services and Planning
  • Susan Susan Harris-Huether, Senior Customer Service Manager
  • Terry Haffie, Island Contract Agents Manager
  • Trevor Shrpe, Anacortes on-site Agent

Rick Hughes, Orcas Island FAC member, assisted with the meeting.

The first half of the meeting was a presentation by Brian Churchwell on the successes and challenges of the reservation system so far. View the full presentation here: SJI Reservations Fall 2015 Outreach

Noted benefits of the reservation system include:

  • Provided predictability: Reservation customers know when they will travel. (2,667 per day travel with reservation)
  • Reduced time waiting at the terminal: Customers may arrive at the terminal 30+ minutes prior to sailing.
  • Last minute reservations available: 25% of reservations are made the day before or on the same day of travel.
  • Reduced queuing at terminal: lines approaching tollbooth at Anacortes are typically less than 15 minutes.
  • Reduced congestion: overloads reduced by 80%.
  • Maintained ridership: maintain 2014 ridership with vessel capacity reduction in spring/summer.

Noted challenges of the reservation system include:

  • Release of reservation space: tiered release is confusing; large increase in calls to customer service; difficulties in securing round-trip reservations (Orcas and San Juan); stress of 7am release time; disadvantage to phone uses over website uses in securing reservations.
  • Website usability: some customers finding website difficult and/or confusing, leading to a inability to complete the reservation process.
  • Flexible policies & low fees: 15% of reservations are cancelled, many at the last minute; people making multiple reservations and the 7% of reservations that are never used take spaces that others may have used; 10% no-show rate affects ability to manage standby space effectively.
  • Customers arriving early: Early arrivals lead to increased time at teh tollbooths to explain the policies; customers unhappy about forfeiting reserved space in order to take an earlier sailing.
  • Vessels departing with available space.

WSF is proposing to modify several policies in order to address the issues noted above. The primary policy modifications, along with the proposed options for modification are:

No-show Fees

  • Option A: Maintain current no-show fees (standard vehicle = $10)
  • Option B: Increase no-show fee by 50% (standard vehicle = $15)
  • Option C: Charge full-fare (standard vehicle = $22.40 – $31.90)

Cancellation Policy

  • Option A: Maintain current policy: prior day by 5pm
  • Option B: Two days prior by midnight with incentive to cancel afterwards (charge a lesser cancellation fee)

Reservation Release

  • Option A: Maintain three-tiered release, 30-30-30-10: 30% two months prior, 30% 14 days prior, 30% 2 days prior, 10% standby)
  • Option B: Two-tiered release, percentages to be determined
  • Option C: One release, 80-20: 80% two months prior, 20% standby.

Note: there was considerable discussion about the percentages that could be used for a two-tied release. The first release would be two months prior, with 50%-60% spaces released; 2-14 days prior, with 20%-30% space released; and 20% standby. WSF made it clear that more than 20% standby spaces would be counterproductive, reverting to the issues of congestion that reservations are meant to address.

Other issues & suggestions from citizens included:

  • Early problems with customers being turned away from the ticket booths
  • Ticket sellers’ lack of information about standby space availability
  • Standby vehicles on multi-destination sailings not being loaded in order of arrival at the terminal
  • Leaving the loading window open too late (within the stated 30 minute cutoff policy)
  • Terminal Status tool not accurate since reservations were implemented
  • Need to limit the number of reservations that individuals can make at one time, while allowing for events such as weddings
  • To avoid the telephone congestion at Customer Service for cancellations at 5 PM daily, establish a 24 hour cancellation period based upon the time of the sailing.  This would spread out the calls over a much longer period of time and provide relief for the Customer Service staff
  • WSF originally planned on having systems software available by June 14, 2015, that would allow ticket sellers to make a reservation for customers arriving Anacortes without a reservation.  This would allow them to accurately identify which sailing the customer could make and hopefully would reduce traffic in the stand-by lanes.  WSF needs to work to make this happen
  • WSF announced that the lock-out period for reservations will be reduced from the current 3-hour window to a 2-hour window, which will be consistent with the Port Townsend run 2-hour window

WSF acknowledged that people are still getting used to reservations and that any changes need to be made with due consideration.

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