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Former Ferry Advisory Committee member says proposed summer schedule cuts service to F.H.; community meeting May 6

Washington State Ferries will host a San Juan Islands Community Meeting May 6, 11:35 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on the interisland ferry.

The ferry departs Friday Harbor at 11:35 a.m., Orcas at 12:25 p.m., Shaw at 12:40 p.m., and Lopez at 1 p.m.

Topics for discussion include: recap of the legislative session, priorities for 2010, fare change process and emergency service planning.

At least one islander plans on bringing up the issue of the summer schedule: Robert deGavre, former member of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee. In a letter, deGavre said the proposed summer schedule results in two major reductions in service to Friday Harbor relative to prior summers.

DeGavre writes:

* * *

For the first time in memory, Friday Harbor must share, with Lopez Island, its westbound mid-afternoon sailing from Anacortes. Of all the ferry sailings within WSF’s San Juan routes, this boat is the most heavily overloaded departure — and consistently so throughout the year. For much of the year, it is overloaded one hour before departure. Anacortes terminal staff now estimate that the boat will be filled 90 minutes before departure.

Eastbound afternoon capacity from Friday Harbor to Anacortes has been severely reduced relative to prior summers. This reduction will leave a bitter aftertaste in the memories of tourists returning home after the weekend.

The impact will be felt throughout the week. But it is acute on Sundays. Space allocations on the three eastbound afternoon sailings are reduced by 70 spaces. Effective spaces have been reduced by 75. This means that numerous tourists returning to the mainland will be forced onto the all-stops 20:35 sailing and will not arrive in Anacortes until shortly before midnight. If ferry traffic continues to rebound from last year’s recessionary levels (in the last two quarters, Friday Harbor traffic grew by 6.9% and 3.3% respectively), then roughly 100 additional cars will be forced to take this late ferry. On some Sundays, there may be insufficient capacity on the 20:35 ferry to take all tourists off the island and they may be stranded.

The process by which these reductions in service were implemented is instructive. WSF staff first submitted a draft Schedule to the Ferry Advisory Committee that increased total route capacity by about 150 spaces. But, based upon historical loading data, it under-allocated about 160 loading spaces to Friday Harbor and over-allocated about 125 spaces to Lopez Island. It slashed Friday Harbor’s afternoon and evening capacity such that on average roughly 40-50 vehicles would have been stranded in Friday Harbor on Sundays — unable to leave San Juan Island.

After the FAC clawed back some of the spaces from Lopez Island – but not enough to restore balance — the media reported that that State Senator Kevin Ranker intervened with David Moseley. Some report that he intervened “at the request of the FAC”; others report he “sandbagged” the FAC.

Regardless, his intervention resulted in an agreement that frankly defies rational understanding. Ranker and Moseley agreed to (i) cancel a direct Anacortes afternoon sailing to/from Lopez, thereby reducing system capacity by 150 spaces; (ii) to share with Lopez Island the already chronically overloaded mid-afternoon sailing from Anacortes to Friday Harbor; and (iii) to share a second of Friday Harbor’s three eastbound afternoon sailings with Lopez Island, thereby further making Friday Harbor’s already dire afternoon capacity situation worse.

The “why” of the 2010 Summer Schedule is disturbing. It was unnecessary to reduce service to Friday Harbor. Some may claim the “Peter principle” is well and at work. Others may see something more sinister. I don’t know the “why."

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