Sound Off: State Ferries need to improve decision making


The following is edited from an email sent to Washington State Ferries before the recent Whidbey News-Times article “Small Boat Means Long Ferry Lines.” Actually, there is much more that is faulty in the ferry operation. So, I composed an advisory essay for State Ferries officials to help them make improved decisions going forward in the short term, and also long term:

First of all, the operation should start with first principles, namely what is, or should be, the mission statement for State Ferries? A valid mission statement could be crafted by a group involving all stakeholders, including ferry management, proxies for walk-on and auto users, union members of all positions on the ferries and representatives from the legislative and executive branches of state government. Here’s a starter shot at a mission statement: “The Washington Ferry Service mission is to provide safe, reliable, and convenient service to vehicular and walk-on customers.”

I have no idea why the Mukilteo-Clinton route is running short of capacity; there was a period a couple of years ago where the summer service consisted of two large 144-car ferries and even at peak times the service was good. Then you substituted a 124-car capacity vessel for one of the boats and now that is replaced by an 89-car vessel.

The capacity shortfall that builds up all day over each sailing results in undue waiting starting late morning every single day. That does not meet any conceivable mission statement for customer service. The situation is aggravated at the end of the day by shifting to one boat at 9 p.m. and exacerbated further by using the small ferry as the lone boat in service after 9 p.m. to clean up the backlog.

Here’s a shot at a near-term operating guideline you could implement next week without dealing with crew or boat shortages that would mitigate, though not eliminate the problem.At 9 p.m., use the large boat to clean up the backlog instead of the small boat.

Maintain the 30-minute schedule as a tactical policy after 9 p.m. to clean up the backlog down to a one-boat wait.

My ferry story: On Wednesday, June 19 my wife and I drove to a family event in Woodinville using the Clinton ferry outbound and the Mukilteo ferry inbound to home. The family event started at 4 p.m. and ended at 7:45 pm. Given a ferry advisory of a two-hour wait at Clinton, we left home at 1:35 p.m., ran into the ferry wait line on Highway 525 about 3/4 mile from the Clinton Post Office, waited for one ferry and made the next. The website listing of ferries operating were backwards, so it appears either the website was wrong, or the ferries were running 30 minutes behind schedule. We got to our event on time.

Returning home, the advertised ferry wait in advisory emails had not been updated from the noon issue of a two-hour wait so we had little guidance on when to leave the event. We left the family event about 7:15 pm hoping to make the 9 p.m. ferry and ran into the Mukilteo ferry line at about a half mile before Fifth Street.

On entering the toll booths, we were told we would make the 10 p.m. sailing. Simultaneously, we received first an email from your service advising there was no waiting line at Mukilteo, followed by another advising a one-hour wait. The latter was clearly in error; the cars in lanes adjacent to ours would have to wait until the 11 p.m. sailing, and based on the small boat capacity, at the time we boarded the 10 p.m. sailing I estimate there were cars in the holding area that would be lucky to make the midnight boat. I have no idea what you do for the last sailing if there is still a large number of cars in holding.

Peter Morton is a Langley resident and former member of the Langley City Council.