Keep late-night sailings on Clinton route, riders say

Most of the riders on the last ferry runs of the night are workers who don’t want those weekday sailings cut, according to a recent two-night survey of travelers done by local ferry officials.

Dave Hoogerwerf and Dean Enell, both members of the Clinton Ferry Advisory Committee, polled riders during the 12:30 a.m. Clinton and 1 a.m. Mukilteo sailings this past Wednesday and Thursday to get opinions on proposed cuts to the number of crossings to Whidbey.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s transportation budget for the upcoming biennium includes service cuts on the Clinton-Mukitleo route, as well as reduced hours on other ferry runs and additional reductions in the operations of Washington State Ferries. Reducing late-night hours on the Clinton run for the entire year are expected to total biennial (2011-2013) savings of $1.2 million. It will also mean the loss of 6.2 ferry jobs and 4,100 fewer riders on a route that carries roughly 3.8 million travelers annually.

Enell said the last ferry sailing of the night isn’t one that he’s used much during his more than 20 years on Whidbey, and he learned a few surprising things during the survey.

The final sailing from Clinton, for instance, was mostly walk-ons. There was only one car to take the trip each of the nights they surveyed riders.

The sailing from Mukilteo at 1 a.m. was almost the complete opposite.

“Coming back the other way, there were about 18 cars per trip on each of those two nights, and then about another five walk-ons,” he said.

A majority of those on the last sailings from Mukilteo and Clinton said they were going to work or coming home from work; 57 percent of those polled in Mukilteo said their ride was work-related, while 60 percent coming from Clinton their travel was due to their job.

For those leaving Mukilteo, 76 percent said they couldn’t take an earlier ferry. From Clinton, 60 percent said an earlier ferry also wasn’t an option.

Riders also said they caught the last ferry sailing several times each week (3.2 times for those on the final Mukilteo sailing; 2.6 times for those on the final Clinton sailing).

“I think we talked to a big chunk of the people who use that ferry regularly,” Enell said.

Enell said it was clear that travelers were taking the last sailing because of work — social events were the second main reason — with a few interesting exceptions.

“There was one guy who lives in Bellevue and the alarm went off in his beach cabin, so he was hightailing it over to see what happened,” he said.

Enell said riders had already heard about the proposed cuts to the late sailings on the Clinton route. A strong majority were opposed to the idea

(81 percent against, from those polled in Mukilteo, and 100 percent against, from those polled in Clinton).

Some riders said they would support paying higher fares to keep the late-night weekday sailings in place, with 50 percent of those polled in Mukilteo OK with higher fares, and 40 percent of Clinton respondents also supportive of the suggestion.

Enell said he also conducted an informal e-mail poll, and 14 of 20 respondents were opposed to eliminating the last sailings.

Some suggested slight changes, such as varying from the 30-minute schedule and having crossings every 45 minutes.

Members of the Clinton Ferry Advisory Committee will share their survey results with ferry officials and state lawmakers. Enell also encourages ferry riders to contact their local lawmakers directly to share their concerns.

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