Opinion

40th District legislators united on plan for WSF | Guest opinion

As lawmakers from a district that's nearly equal parts land and water, we understand firsthand the vital lifelines that are our ferries.

Our ferries connect each and every one of us to our region, as well as to the state beyond our marine borders. 

It comes as no surprise then; we have dedicated our legislative effort to ensuring the vitality of our state's fleet. It's why we formed the "ferry caucus" in Olympia, a bi-partisan coalition of senators and representatives advocating as a bloc to this end. 

Our mission is two-fold: Protecting service for our island residents and visitors; and secondly, protecting the economy and related jobs dependent on marine transportation. 

We must recognize the hard times our ferry system has fallen upon. Operating, fuel, and maintenance costs have only increased, while the amount of revenue supporting the system continues to dwindle. Even with significant cuts, the ferry system still faces an uncertain future. 

The Transportation budget as proposed by the Legislature is not without its share of sacrifices, but before any service adjustments are voted upon, we must cut costs in every corner. We are united in a position of no service cuts, as we believe current levels can be maintained if we cut unnecessary funding elsewhere. The ferry caucus has put forth an agenda to streamline spending and achieve this end. 

We propose implementing a more efficient fuel-purchasing plan, which has the potential for significant savings. Cost reductions would be utilized to preserve winter weekend - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - service on the Anacortes-Sidney, Interisland and Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth ferry routes. 

We propose to temporarily halt development of the reservation system. This is a program that riders will not benefit from in the long term and the infrastructure is not yet in place. Sacrificing service for a program with no benefit makes no sense at this time. 

We propose to stop funding WSF marketing and communications efforts and using these funds to support service. Without ferry runs to market, these outreach efforts will bring little progress in ridership. 

We've already adopted significant accountability and oversight procedures that go straight to the heart of the bureaucracy at WSF, which for many reasons has been incapable of adapting and modernizing over the years. 

We propose setting timelines for performance goals at WSF. If those goals are not met, then the public management team will be replaced with a private contractor. This would not, however, affect any collective bargaining rights or agreements for ferry workers serving on the vessels or ports. 

We'd like to recognize the concessions made by the ferry workers themselves, who have agreed to salary and compensation packages that fall in line with those of most other state employees. They have shown a great willingness to find a workable compromise, saving millions each year in the process. 

Of course, we will not agree to any budget proposal without concrete plans to modernize our aging fleet of vessels. We are happy to report our fellow legislators' support for banking half the funding needed for a 144-car vessel beginning next year and are currently working hard to identify the additional funding necessary. 

In the end, we know there are only three options: We can push management to realize some cost-savings, we can raise prices, or we can reduce service. Because of our maritime unified front, this is shaping into one of the best legislative sessions for ferry service in some time. 

Operation efficiencies, performance measures with consequences for not meeting our goals, and new ferry construction funding have all moved forward. While the current level of service is not acceptable, we are getting near to stopping the decade long erosion of service. 

— By Sen. Kevin Ranker, Rep. Jeff Morris, Rep. Kristine Lytton 

 

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