David Moseley’s return | Ferries chief back on Whidbey to talk reservations

David Moseley, the assistant secretary for the state Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division, explains and defends the controversial proposal for a vehicle reservation system at a meeting in Clinton on Tuesday. - Brian Kelly / The Record
David Moseley, the assistant secretary for the state Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division, explains and defends the controversial proposal for a vehicle reservation system at a meeting in Clinton on Tuesday.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

CLINTON — There are nearly 280 million reasons why Washington State Ferries wants to start a reservation system for travelers on state ferries.

But the one that’s foremost in many minds on the South End is not among them.

“We’re not interested in doing this to make people’s lives miserable,” David Moseley, the assistant secretary for the state Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division, told an attentive audience at a ferry meeting Tuesday.

“We’re interested in doing this to make the system work better and to make people’s lives better,” he said. “And if we can’t demonstrate that, we’re not going to do this.”

The meeting earlier this week followed a boisterous meeting in late February, where Moseley faced an irate crowd of more than 200, with many annoyed at the proposal by Washington State Ferries to start a reservation system. Residents warned the system would make it harder for people to get on and off Whidbey Island, and would discourage tourists and hurt the local economy.

This week, residents continued to stress their opposition to the idea.

Moseley, however, said that without a reservation system in place, the state would have to expand the holding areas for ferry users at terminals across Puget Sound so travelers would not continue to clog up streets in ferry communities.

The price tag for expanding parking areas is estimated to top $280 million.

The reservation system is needed, Moseley said, “so we don’t have to build larger boats and larger terminals.”

Though the meeting touched on other critical issues for the state ferry system — the state’s long-term plan for ferries, a potential 2.5-percent increase in ferry fares, and the need for a permanent and stable capital revenue source to bring new vessels online and pay for the upkeep of the fleet and terminals — the proposed reservation system was the issue residents wanted to talk about. Most left the meeting after talk about reservations wrapped up.

Moseley spent much time trying to tamp down concerns about the proposal.

He repeatedly recalled the last meeting in Langley, where islanders lined up to lambast the idea and he was presented with a petition signed by 500 people opposed to the reservation system.

“I heard you at the Langley meeting. And the Legislature heard you at the Langley meeting,” he said. “That’s why the Legislature said to us, come back, show us how you do it, then we might let you do it.”

Earlier this year, the state Legislature gave the go-ahead to Washington State Ferries to launch a “pre-design study” on a pilot vehicle reservation system.

Ferry officials were told to come back to the Legislature during the 2010 session with the results, and lawmakers would then decide whether to fund implementation of a pilot program.

“What the Legislature has asked us to do is a pre-design study that will look at the technology and the capacity needs of what a vehicle-reservation system would look like for Washington State Ferries.

“They haven’t authorized us to do anything,” he said.

The Legislature must be convinced the system will work once the study is finished, Moseley added.

“At that time, the Legislature would then decide: We don’t think you’ve done enough, you’ve got to go back and do some more; or we don’t think this is a good idea; or we want to implement it on that specific route, and let’s see how it works out before we would implement it anywhere else.”

Moseley said each route would be studied intensely before a reservation system would be implemented. And before that, Washington State Ferries would seek the advice of a “community partnership group” formed for each route.

The pilot project will be based on the Edmonds-Kingston run.

“It’s a very complex route that will encompass a number of things where we have to demonstrate we can resolve these issues before we would ever want to commit it to the system,” Moseley said.

The Edmonds-Kingston route has a commuter base, as well as the heaviest vehicle usage in the system.

It also has a heavy commercial base and a heavy recreational base, Moseley said.

He said the Legislature is taking a cautious, step-by-step approach.

“Prove one step, maybe we’ll let you take another one. You prove the next step, maybe we’ll let you take another one,” he said.

Until the Legislature signs off on the idea, reservation systems will only be used in the places where they already exist: the Keystone-Port Townsend and Anacortes-Sidney routes.

Moseley also said the reservation system would not change the priority-loading policies that give preference to people with medical emergencies, or carpools and vanpools.

Room would be left onboard for people who don’t have reservations, he said, though the actual percentage would not be known until the pre-design study is done. It was likely that different sailings would have more or less room set aside for travelers without reservations.

“You wouldn’t envision having a reservation system for the times when you don’t need it,” he said.

Even so, South End residents at this week’s meeting remained skeptical. Some pointed out that travel to and from the island is spontaneous, and locals know when they can drive down to the Clinton terminal and not face a long wait. One said conducting a study when so many ferry users oppose it was “a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

“That’s what concerns me,” added Jean Wilcox.

“It is miniscule compared to the money we would have to spend if we had to expand holding areas at our terminals,” Moseley replied.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she was encouraged to hear that Washington State Ferries is giving each route an independent look.

“Each run is very different,” she said. “I’m not convinced that it would make sense on our run.”

Price Johnson, however, said she has heard from people in other counties who support the idea.

“Just as loudly as the folks in Clinton are saying ‘Don’t do this,’ they’re saying, ‘Please, would you do this.’”

“We don’t hear that so much on our island,” Price Johnson said.

Washington State Ferries will hold additional public meetings in the next two weeks in other ferry communities.

The final version of the state’s long-range plan for the state ferry system is expected to be released on June 30.

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