FlexFerry is great for tourists, not locals | Guest Column

by Christopher Hodgkin

Special to the Journal

The FlexFerry reservation proposal (Journal, Aug. 5, page 1) was obviously designed by a non-resident, because it would be wonderful for tourists but a disaster for locals.

FlexFerry doesn’t make riders wait for the three times that reservation slots open to request reservations, but lets people at any time put reservation requests in a first come/first served computer queue, which will grab available reservations as they open up for those who got into the queue earliest.  The result is that those who can’t plan their travel far ahead may be unable to get on the ferries they need.

Let’s see how this would work in practice. The summer schedule started on June 14. The first 30 percent of spaces opened up for reservations about April 14.

Under the current system, those (probably mostly tourists or non-residents) who in April know their summer travel plans can reserve spaces right away, but the rest of the spaces are made available closer to the time when residents are more likely to know their travel needs, giving both tourists and residents the same fair opportunity to get the spaces they want.

But if we look at, say, reservations for the Friday before Labor Day, under FlexFerry, tourists who in late April or May had missed the original opening spaces could get into the FlexFerry queue, and at 7 a.m. on Aug. 21 the computer would swoop in with its electronic speed and grab those spaces for those in its queue, leaving residents who hadn’t been able to plan their travel months in advance out in the cold, or forcing them to buy reservations, probably at a hefty mark-up, from those who got into the queue early on.  By the time residents get on the computer at a few minutes after 7 a.m., the reservations for both the two-week and the two-day openings may all have been grabbed by FlexFerry.

This is a wonderful system for non-residents (like the designer of the system) who can make summer plans long in advance.  But it would be an absolute disaster for locals who can seldom make their September travel plans in April or May.

This system is virtually identical to the “ticket bot” systems which the State has now made illegal for grabbing tickets to popular concert and sporting events. There is almost no difference between the right to reserve a seat at a specific concert or sporting event and the right to reserve a space to board a specific ferry.

There may be ways the reservation system can be improved, but for island residents, FlexFerry is most definitely NOT the way. The ferry system should do what it can to prevent FlexFerry from totally destroying the entire concept of the graduated opening of spaces that gives a fair opportunity to locals to board the ferries which are so essential to our lives.

Hodgkin is a resident of San Juan Island.