Here are my notes from Wednesday night’s WSF reservations public outreach meeting. Approximately 50 Lopezians were in attendance.
- 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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
Sen. Kevin Ranker (40th District) released the following statement about vehicle reservations:
June 1, 2015
“Over the past several weeks, I’ve heard from many of you regarding your ideas, questions and concerns regarding the Washington State Ferries Reservation system.
“I want you to know that I too have questions and share some of your concerns. While some of you have shared stories with me regarding significant benefits of the reservation system, others have expressed serious concerns stating that the reservation system has made it difficult for locals and businesses that rely on our ferries.
“One thing is for sure, the implementation of the Reservation System is a work in progress and while I do not anticipate, nor do I support, the repeal of the system, there are likely to be changes made as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
“In addition to receiving comments from dozens of individuals at my office in Olympia and on the island, I have held meetings with members of our lodging industry, construction industry, local ferry workers, chamber of commerce, visitor’s bureau and others. I have also met directly with State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.
“These meetings have been productive and critical toward understanding all aspects of this issue. I have provided a letter to Secretary Peterson that lays out my preliminary recommendations to address some of the issues with the reservation system.
“Your continued input is a crucial part of this process. Please contact me at my office at (360) 786-7678 or by email at Kevin.Ranker@leg.wa.govso that I may hear what you think and what ideas you may have so that we can keep people and commerce moving.”
Read Sen. Ranker’s letter to Sec. Peterson: 5_29_15_Sen_Ranker_wsdot_ferry_letter
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.
Tech new site GeekWire has a story on the ferry reservation system crash, and secured this statement from WSDOT:
“We got swamped, and then some. Swamped is of course a nautical term. So to continue in that vein, we are bailing (water, not out). Still afloat, and clawing back.
“In a nutshell: 30x sustained traffic versus any peak we’ve had since January. A bit more than expected (and within our tolerance), but it seems a software problem may have been concealed until now.”
Read the rest of the story here: Washington State ferries botch launch of online reservation system for summer sailings
From the San Juan Islander:
“Ferries: Good news and bad news
“The San Juans/Anacortes ferry route will have the Samish, Washington State ferries newest boat, beginning on the summer schedule. The boat could begin service earlier depending on when it finishes up its sea trials.
“Tentatively scheduled for May 20 is an opportunity for the public to tour the Samish while it is tied up at the Anacortes terminal. More information will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
“Now the bad news. The Sealth, which carries 50 fewer passengers than a Super Class ferry, is now in service on the Friday Harbor to Anacortes route and will remain so until June 13. This means 200 less spaces from Anacortes to Friday Harbor each day (6:20, 9:30 a.m. and 2:40, 6 p.m. sailings) during the spring schedule which includes six weeks of the peak season May 1-June 13.
“Capacity is also reduced 200 spaces on sailings from Friday Harbor to Anacortes (8:05, 11:05 a.m. and 4:15, 7:45 p.m.)”
There has been some concerns and confusion regarding vehicle reservations and Medical Priority loading. I contacted Brian Churchwell, Reservations Program Manager asking for clarification on medical priority loading and reservations, and this is his reply:
“There has been a lot of confusion around the medical priority. The medical priority has not been changed with the deployment of vehicle reservations. The Washington Administrative Code still says customers may receive a medical priority with their doctor if the wait is detrimental to their health. Medical priorities are provided access to the vehicle space prior to reservation holders and standby vehicles.
“Our challenges that is impacting Orcas Island and Friday Harbor is that some customers are using this medical priority to go to a planned doctor’s appointment, including items like scheduled chemo appointment. The intent of the WAC was for customers returning from a procedure so they wouldn’t have to wait in line. Our desire is that customers make a reservation to go to the appointment, when that appointment is made in advance, and there is available space. This helps our terminal staff to plan ahead the number of vehicles planned to travel on the sailing and communicate to customers without reservations the likelihood they will get on the sailing.
“We are trying to communicate to our medical priority customers that we recommend that they make a reservation both to/from their doctor. When they travel on their reserved sailing, we will redeem their reservation and place them in line with the medical priorities. Understandably, some appointments run longer than planned. If that occurs, they can still use the medical priority to get on a later sailing. We will redeem their reservation so they aren’t charged a no-show fee and place them in line with the medical priorities.”
If you have questions or concerns about medical priority, or other issues related to vehicle reservations, you can contact Brian at:
VRS Program Manager