Con: ferry reservations

by Becca Gillespy Peter

The reservation system was created because the demand for car space on peak sailings vastly exceeded the supply, causing congestion and long waits. The reservation system helps spread demand to off-peak sailings, which should allow more cars to be transported.

Unfortunately, making 90 percent of each sailing reservable has consistently led to peak sailings leaving with significant car space available while drive-up cars are being turned away at the booth because the computer says the boat is full. Washington State Ferries hides this by boasting of increased “ridership” numbers, but the significant decrease in Memorial Day ridership to Lopez and the continuing empty spaces on “full” boats are indicative of problems transporting cars.

The ferry system is most residents’ only access to essential services. While some residents have predictable plans that work nicely with the reservation system, many residents and businesses are struggling to travel under the reservation system. Our most vulnerable residents are having the hardest time understanding the system, and are least able to fight any erroneous “no-show” fees they receive.

While WSF is blaming no-shows on hoarders making multiple reservations, the truth is that no-shows come from many sources.

No-shows include drivers who sail early, drivers who know they need to cancel but couldn’t do it by 5 p.m. the night before, Lopez and Shaw drivers who couldn’t get off the island in the morning, drivers who got stuck in unexpected traffic, drivers who had family emergencies or car breakdowns, etc.

In addition to the no-show issue, there is also the unpredictability of loading the ferries. Ferry loading is an art, not a science, and our ferry workers are excellent at it. They are often able to load more cars than predicted. The truth is that they can never predict the exact number of cars on a given sailing because they don’t know the exact dimensions of each vehicle, nor do they know the order in which the vehicles will line up.

WSF is now encouraging drivers to live dangerously and take a chance driving stand-by. But with the terminal conditions web page consistently displaying inaccurate information, only 10 percent of space designated for drive-up, and uncertainty about whether or not the booth workers will even allow you to enter the terminal to attempt to sail, this is not a solution. It is a Band-Aid.

The solution to the problem is to switch to a 50/50 reservation/drive-up system. We MUST have a large number of standby cars in the terminal to ensure peak sailings are full. Travelers with uncertain plans would be able to travel with the certainty that, if they are willing to wait, they will catch a boat.

Becca Peter lives on Lopez Island