I have been a user and a fan of the Washington State Ferries my entire life.  Over the years, I have used them for transportation around Washington, as a Commuter, and at the beginning and ending of vacations.  It all has depended upon what part of Cascadia I have been living in at any given point of my life.

Recently, the ferry system, as well as all of the Washington Department of Transportation and, indeed, the state as a whole, have been running on a minimum amount of budget money.  This has caused some necessary maintenance to be deferred on both the ferries and on the highways.  We are now looking at a dual problem where, not only does WSF need to be expanding its services to meet the needs of a growing state, it also needs to be replacing some of its older ferries.  While that process is just now getting started, it is still in it’s beginning stages.  That is, the stage where they are going to open bids on the first ferry in the new series, the one that will replace the borrowed ferry we are now using to provide a bare minimum of service.

I have been mulling over a recent article where WSF Director David Moseley is going over some of the immediate and future needs of the ferry system.  There are a variety of subgects that were covered, including:

  • The 2009-2011 Long-term budget to be presented to the legislature.
  • The ferry system’s long-term plan.
  • The need for consistent funding of the ferry system.
  • Possible expansion of the reservations system.
  • Adjusting pricing to get maximum usage of the ferries throughout the day, and the optimum mix of vehicles.
  • Coordinating ferry service with connecting transit services to get the most out of both, and to turn auto drivers into foot passengers on commuter runs.
  • The immediate need to refurbish ferry terminals, especially those at Mukilteo, Anacortes, Edmonds, Seattle, and Bainbridge Island.
  • The need to both increase the size of the fleet and to replace some older ferries that need to be retired soon.

I would like to explore all of these needs, and plan to do so here in the near future.  The ferry system is a unique enterprise.   It is the largest ferry system in the US, and only BC Ferries to the North rivals it’s size in all of North America.  It serves a number of purposes.

The Cross-Sound routes serve as a link for commuters, as the “Greater Seattle Metropolitan Area” expands to Kitsap and Island Counties and beyond. These routes are at least as important as the transit systems that weave their web of service throughout the populated areas of Western Washington.  They serve both as bridges for auto commuters and buses for walk-on passengers.

All of the routes serve as a vital system of bridges over the water covering the heart of Washington State.  Businesses depend upon these ferries as a conduit for the trucks that bring goods to sell into their stores.  A reduced ferry system would hobble the amount of commerce that is allowed to take place in many communities.  These ships are not a luxury.  They are bridges to communities.

Much of the tourism industry in Western Washington is, at least in some way, dependent upon Washington State Ferries.  Ferries get vacationers to the Olympic Peninsula, into the San Juan Islands, and offer a way for get travelers to Vancouver Island and Victoria to also be able to enjoy the scenery (and spend their money) in Washington.  Any reductions in service will also cause hardships for the people in that business or working in the tourism industry.

Of course, there are a limited amount of dollars to cover all of the transportation needs of the entire state.  We have roads and bridges that need repair.  We need to account for growth in every direction in the Puget Sound Region and beyond.  We also need to make sure that we consider the ferry system to be part of that system of bridges, albeit one with particular needs.  It is certainly more than a quaint way for folks to get out on the weekend.

I will be discussing some of the points above in more depth in the coming days and weeks.  In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing any input you might have.