I don’t blame anyone at Washington State Ferries for vessels failing and going out of service. No one at WSF, from the deck hands to the highest level of management, is responsible for the fact that the fleet is malfunctioning. I blame service disruptions due to breakdowns on Tim Eyman, talk radio and the Legislature.
However, when a boat must be removed from service and hundreds of cars left stranded at the dock on a Sunday, and then half the population of San Juan County spends the next few days wondering if they’ll make it to that long-awaited medical appointment on the mainland, there are a few things the fine folks at WSF can do to ease the headaches that will inevitably occur. On the flip side, there are things WSF can do to exacerbate the problem. Monday morning, April 23, at the Orcas dock was a textbook example of WSF making a big problem much worse.
When I arrived at Orcas Landing on my way to an important appointment in Seattle, I was told by the employee in the booth that reservations were not being honored and that it was all first come, first served. To add insult to injury, when the ferry was being loaded, four cars that arrived after I did were loaded ahead of mine. Fortunately, I did make it on the boat. But there were cars that arrived before the four late arrivals that did not.
WSF’s policy during times of reduced service is to give priority to reservation holders. Apparently, the crew at Orcas Landing was not aware of that on Monday. Additionally, loading cars out of order of arrival does little to engender customer confidence.
WSF employees work hard for us, and even harder when there are service disruptions. They deserve our praise and appreciation for meeting the extra challenges presented when boats break down. WSF can’t afford to buy new ferries until the Legislature fully funds a comprehensive integrated public transportation system. While we’re waiting for that to happen, WSF should make a modest investment in contingency planning and communication.