Ferry riders revive FLOW


Last Wednesday, in the conference room of the San Juan Island Library, an artist, a retired land surveyor, a retired banker, a commercial boat operator from Crane Island, a teacher who lives on Vashon Island, a local Red Cross volunteer, an EMS employee and a retired musician all answered the invitation of retired high-school teacher Fred Yockers to form a grassroots group that intends to push for immediate solutions to the big problems facing Washington State Ferries and their customers.

The founding group calls itself a steering committee; they want to avoid the word leadership. They tentatively named their group FLOW, an acronym for “Ferry Lovers of Washington.” Steering committee members credited the origination of the FLOW acronym to the late Howard Schonberger, a revered former Journal columnist and sales rep. “Go with the FLOW” was a Schonberger catchphrase.

Several members who are longtime residents of San Juan Island felt Schonberger would approve of the appropriation of the FLOW name. Co-chair Tom Starr wants the tone of FLOW to be positive, constructive and supportive. Said Starr, “I love this place. I love the islands. I love the water. And I love our ferries. So I love that ‘love’ is in the FLOW name.”

The two-hour inaugural meeting was crackling with high energy from the beginning, as founder Yocker proposed grassroots action on six fronts: research, governmental lobbying, public rallies and demonstrations, development of a “Stranded Passenger Project,” expansion of budding private water taxi services and input on the WSF reservation system and schedule changes.

“I bleed for Ukraine, I bleed for Israel,” said Yockers, stressing that the state of ferry service is an issue touching island residents at least as much.

“Could we get one thousand people to stand in the street in Friday Harbor?” asked Yockers, listing a number of demonstrations that could be aimed at attracting attention to the problems. Several steering committee members said one of its most important potential accomplishments would be gathering facts that they have found difficult to acquire from WSF. Thomas Bridge of Crane Island is owner of Island Water Taxi LLC. Since Saturday, August 19, Bridge has been operating a private inter-island passenger ferry. Bridge told the group that he ferried 100 passengers between the islands in his first month of operation. Bridge calls it “a donation-based service [so] pay what you can up to $40 per person one way.” He adds that he is “working on a more subsidized fare.”

Bridge said he has attempted several times to request data from WSF and was told to leave a phone message. His messages to WSF, he told the group, were never returned. Bridge has been looking for two types of data: details on canceled sailings and very late sailings. He said a man from Vashon pointed him to a PDF file deep in the WSDOT website, but it still didn’t have the detail he wants. Bridge called data requests of WSF “a bottomless pit.” Two other FLOW steering committee members said they felt powerless to pursue solutions without the essential facts.

The other thread that ran through the two-hour discussion was accountability at the highest levels of state government. While most expressed frustration with state leadership, there was a consensus that WSF front-line employees are not the problem. “They are victims, too,” one steering committee member stressed.

At the end of the meeting, Yockers handed over the task of building up the new group to co-chair, Starr. The next day, Starr attended the WSF Ferry Advisory Committee meeting for the San Juans, and introduced FLOW to the FAC.

The steering committee members agreed to try to meet twice a month. That would put the second meeting on Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. at the library. However, on Friday, Starr told this reporter that the meeting date and time might change because he hopes to schedule the presence of a state official in the meeting.

There is no website or newsletter yet; no dues and no membership process. However, Starr said interested individuals are welcome to attend the next meeting. Starr welcomed phone calls about FLOW and the next meeting, to 360-378-2462.