Ferries’ new director vows to restore pubic confidence

Moseley speaks to County Council March 11


County reporter

Pull quote: “My eyes are wide open” David Moseley

It’s back to the basics for Washington State Ferries.

And for David Moseley, the newly-appointed director of the perennially cash-strapped state ferry system, boats are “basic” for the public service that Ferries provides.

“The key to providing that basic service really is the vessels,” said Moseley, kicking off a March 12 meeting with local officials and the public in Friday Harbor. “Making sure that they run well, that they’re reliable and that they meet the schedule. Our goal is for that to happen with as little disruption to the public as we can, and that’s a challenge we have right now.”

Challenge? Indeed.

Complaints over the ever-increasing cost of riding the ferries are a constant. But dissatisfaction may be at an all-time high since the four 80-year-old electric-steel ferries were permanently yanked out of service in late November. That decision, prompted by safety concerns over corrosion in their hulls, left passengers on the Port Townsend-Keystone run temporarily without a car-carrying ferry and WSF with few backup boats in its fleet. Required maintenance and emergency repairs over the past three months have caused disruptions throughout the system because of the lack of available boats.

Moseley, who’s resume includes 30-plus years of public administration, 15 of which were as manager of three cities in Washington state, said there’s no quick-fix for the shortage of boats but that better times are ahead. He vowed that public confidence in the ferry system, the largest in the nation, would be restored by the end of his tenure.

“I’m fully aware of the challenge I’m stepping into,” said Moseley, who spent his eighth day on the job in Friday Harbor. “I walked into this job with my eyes wide open.”

Moseley noted the legislature last week funded the construction of six new boats. The first is scheduled to be on the water by spring of 2009 and one will be added to the fleet every 12 months, or so, after that. In the short run, however, he said that cutbacks are likely to happen in the San Juans or elsewhere should another boat break down or be pulled from service in the next six months.

“We won’t have the kind of flexibility the public wants until those boats are constructed,” he said. “Until fall, we’ll have no vessels in reserve so we have very little flexibility.”

Under Moseley’s regime, three of Ferries top priorities will be focused on the “capital” side of the equation; building new boats, keeping the fleet well-maintained, and effective preservation and maintenance of its assets, such as terminals and docks. The fourth, he said, is communicating closely with people and the communities that use and depend on ferry service.

Local officials and islanders took full advantage of theinvitation.

Councilman Alan Licther, Orcas West, said too often decisions are made in Olympia or WSF headquarters before ferry-dependent communities like the San Juans are consulted. He said a system were ferry riders can comment on plans and proposals earlier on would be “enormously helpful”.

Council Chairman Howie Rosenfeld said that the high cost of parking at the Anacortes ferry terminal act as a “disincentive” for those who might travel as a walk-on to the islands. Friday Harbor town Councilman Kelley Balcomb-Bartok echoed that concern, and added that WSF could boost its image by restoring food service year-round and by having kid-friendly play areas onboard the boats.

Friday Harbor businessman Roger Bennett said an exclusive midnight run for large commercial vehicles would free up space onboard the ferries during the day. Such a run might work, according to Ferry Advisory Committee member Robert deGarve, if the price were right. Deborah Hopkins, director of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, said Ferries might benefit by conducting surveys that reveal more about who its customers are and about origins and destinations.

The amount of local input, Moseley said, and its insight, exemplify one of Ferries’ biggest assets. It reinforces the confidence he has that the challenges the agency faces can be overcome.

“Part of the reason we’ll succeed is because people like you in this room want us to succeed,” he said. “Our job is to organize ourselves and put ourselves in a position so we can succeed.’