The San Juan Islands have been at the center of a transportation nightmare, and Washington State Ferries is to blame.
A limited, emergency schedule will be in effect through at least the end of July/early August because the Yakima is out service, and the Kitsap, the only backup for the state’s 22 ferry-fleet, is also out. In reality, who knows how long this interruption will last?
It’s the height of summer, and when you consider the voided reservations, lost business revenue, disappointed tourists who may never return, and headache for daily ferry commuters, this is a calamitous turn of events.
“It is unconscionable that Washington State Ferries would allow this to happen,” said Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, who will soon be sitting down with the secretary of the department of transportation. “I think Washington State Ferries needs to be called to the mat.”
A few stories we’ve heard from business owners: a real estate client backed out of her house purchase because the ferry chaos was so overwhelming. She said, “How can my family and I live here if it’s like this?” A new restaurant couldn’t open because deliveries were delayed. A cafe owner said, “We’ve been down 20 percent every day since the ferry crisis.”
The island chambers of commerce, economic development council, San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, Town of Friday Harbor and San Juan County Council will be communicating the urgency of the travel disruption to Washington State Ferries. They are compiling information from business owners.
Occasional inconvenience is the price we pay for choosing to live and work in communities that are only accessible by boat or plane. And if you look around our towns and parks this past week, it does appear that a healthy number of tourists have persevered and are vacationing here.
However, it’s the responsibility of the Washington State Department of Transportation to ensure that our state highway is fully functional.
Ultimately, we need new vessels in the fleet instead of wasting money on fixing ancient boats. But that discussion is for another day. What we are dealing at the present moment is the inability of the ferry system to meet the needs of our communities. How is it fair that other ferry routes, like Vashon and Bainbridge with sailings every 30 minutes, are unable to provide relief boats to us? In the winter, when we are sailing at lower capacity, vessels from our routes are taken out to help elsewhere. Why isn’t that same courtesy extended to us – in a period of time when we are running at 110 percent capacity?
“I will be asking the DOT for data on the other routes’ current capacities. If the data shows that the other routes are just as busy as we are, fine,” said Ranker. “But if there are any other routes that are serving at 60 percent capacity, we deserve a relief boat.”
This should be a huge wake-up call for us, our elected officials and WSF. The length of this ferry disruption is unacceptable. Our waterway is our state highway and our lifeline. We refuse to be ignored and pushed aside because our county is small and rural.