Washington State Ferries reservation system not a done deal
By SCOTT RASMUSSEN
June 13, 2012 · Updated 11:25 AM
In the event that a reservation system proves to be a poor fit for the San Juan Islands, Washington State Ferries is prepared to drop the idea.
So says the ferry system’s Assistant Secretary David Moseley, who last week pledged at a series of community meetings that WSF would abandoned its quest to establish a reservation system in the San Juans if the logistical hurdles are too high, or if the community can’t get onboard.
“If we can’t work out the issues that come up as we try to develop a set of business rules then we’re not going to do this,” he said. “Washington State Ferries has no interest in losing ridership with a reservation system.”
Reservation system or not, ridership has been on the decline systemwide over the past decade. In 2011, the ferry system carried 22.2 million riders across all routes, roughly 2.8 million fewer than in 2002, and four million fewer than in its peak year, 1999. While the drop has been less dramatic on San Juan routes, which consistently carry about 1.7 million riders a year, long lines and long wait times are not uncommon, particularly on summer holidays and weekends.
Moseley said that since WSF lacks the financial clout to increase the size of its fleet by building more boats – new boats are intended to replace older vessels slated for retirement – a reservation system is expected to help manage growth over the next 20 years by encouraging riders to travel at times when the demand is lighter.
“We have plenty of room for passengers,” he said. “Our constraint, particularly during peak hours, is on our car deck.”
While skepticism may run deep, Moseley, now in his fourth year at the helm of the nation’s largest ferry system, believes that even the most hardened critics might be willing to give reservations a try, after all sides are able to sit down together for an open, honest and constructive “conversation” about obstacles and about solutions.
That’s mostly because, Moseley said, he’s seen it happen before.
“I’ve seen twice now where people who did not think this could possibly work change their point of view based on the business rules we were able to develop and put in place,” Moseley said.
Changes start with summer schedule
Though not starting completely from scratch, WSF will embark on a new era of reservations through an expansion and enhancement of its current system, beginning with the switch-over to its summer sailing schedule on June 17. Those traveling on the Coupeville/Port Townsend route and on the international run, Anacortes to Sidney, B.C., will be able to reserve space online – starting June 13 – on any summer sailing through WSF’s website and its “Save a Spot” reservation function.
In addition, Ferries also revamped its system of reservations long used by commercial customers in the San Juans. Pat McKay of Island Concrete, which often makes four to eight reservations a day, depending on the season, believes the changes will prove beneficial if they work as touted. Not only will the company be able to directly alter its reservations online, eliminating the need to rely on fax machines and WSF staff, it no longer will be required to pay $500 a year to have access to commercial reservations with each change of the sailing schedule.
“The biggest thing I can see is we’ll be able to modify our reservations online instead of having to fill out paperwork and then fax it to them,” McKay said. “It’s a new system so there’s bound to be some bugs in it, but we’re hoping for the best.”Contact Islands Sounder Scott Rasmussen at email@example.com or (360) 378-5696.