David Moseley couldn’t have been more uncomfortable had his head and arms been placed in stocks as an angry crowd threw rotten tomatoes at him. But he never made a dash for the door, instead answering the complaints as best he could while promising to do better in the future.
The scene was Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland where a meeting room with approximately 50 chairs was filled with ferry users, while others had to stand. The center of attention Thursday night was Moseley, assistant secretary for the state Department of Transportation, Ferries Division.
Moseley sweated as the crowd tossed one figurative rotten tomato after another in his direction.
The ferry system, under heavy financial pressure, recently announced plans to cut the last late night ferry run from Clinton (12:30 a.m. departure) to Mukilteo and from Mukilteo to Clinton (1:05 a.m. departure). Moseley told the crowd the cost saving would be about $1 million annually.
“It impacts the least number of riders in a way that saves the most money,” he said.
A newspaper delivery woman stood and objected, saying issues of the Seattle Times and New York Times might have to be driven around Deception Pass. “You won’t have your papers in the morning,” she told the crowd.
Others pointed out that some people need the late ferries for work, while Sue Ellen White cited Friday nights as a particular problem when islanders go to the mainland for entertainment and catch the last ferry home.
Some suggested that a morning run be cut instead.
Other service cuts are proposed throughout the system.
“The system is not financially stable,” Moseley told the dissatisfied crowd, which has endured a number of cancelled ferry trips recently due to staffing mixups, as well as years of annual fare increases. Financial troubles date back to 2000 when voters approved a flat $30 rate for the motor vehicle excise tax, which until then had pumped millions of dollars into the ferry system.
Since then, Moseley said, the DOT has transferred more than $1 billion from other projects into the ferry system to keep it afloat, but no permanent ferry funding source has been found. In the present biennium, the DOT is subsidizing the ferry system by $147 million.
He hopes a “transportation package” will be passed by the 2013 Legislature to solve the problem. One reason for hope, he said, is that Governor-elect Jay Inslee lives on Bainbridge Island. “He uses the ferries a lot,” he said.
But the crowd seemed fed up with excuses, service cuts and canceled runs due to staffing issues. Moseley said the Clinton to Mukilteo route has had 12 one-way trips canceled and three others delayed in recent months due to staffing issues. Systemwide, dozens of runs have been canceled or delayed due to not enough staff to operate the ferries.
Moseley blamed most of the problems on “human error,” that is, ferry workers who fail to show up for work on boats staffed at minimum Coast Guard standards. “Every one is being investigated,” he said. He said in some cases employees have been disciplined but he wouldn’t be specific.
He said replacement crew members are available, but they don’t always live in the problem area. “We go down the seniority list,” he said, eliciting a groan from the crowd. Ferry union rules and allegedly rude employee behavior took frequent verbal shots. One woman suggested a union official should be present at such meetings to answer questions. “The union is not the boss, you are the boss,” she said.
Moseley defended the union, saying it works with ferry administration to keep staffing levels to the required Coast Guard level. Some ferries were running with an extra able bodied seaman, but that position was cut after advisors said it wasn’t needed and the union went along. In addition, all ferry employees from Moseley on down took a 3.5 percent pay cut this biennium.
Another woman complained of constant fare increases. A veteran ferry rider, she said in years past ferries sometimes carried only a few cars. “Now they’re completely full,” she said. “The more we spend the less we get.”
Clinton resident Steve Rojan-Levine expressed anger about missed or delayed ferry trips. “Go to the employers and ask how they handle the employees who are late,” he said. “This is getting ridiculous. People have got to be to work at 7 a.m. in the morning . . . we’re sick and tired of this — you need to get an earful.”
Moseley did get an earful.
“We’ve let our customers down and I apologize for that,” he said.