Ferry reservations to require advance deposit

In an effort to encourage people to use the ferry system during slower hours, officials plan to adjust the reservation system to require payment in advance, among other changes.

Riders using the Port Townsend to Coupeville route, one of the few routes accepting reservations, will see differences in how they make reservations.

Laura Johnson, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division, said in an email that the reservation system will be Washington State Ferries’ “demand management” tool.

She said the online reservation system will allow people to see in advance which sailings are full and plan their travel accordingly.

“This helps to decrease lines and wait times at the terminals by shifting those customers who might otherwise have waited in line to a sailing with available capacity,” Johnson said.

Washington State Ferries instituted a reservation system on the Port Townsend to Coupeville route in May 2008. During that time, vehicle ferry service was provided by a smaller 50-car vessel and the reservations were needed to ensure people have a spot during a time when limited service across Admiralty Inlet was available. When the larger 64-car ferries came out of the shipyard, the reservation system continued.

The number of reservations on the Keystone Harbor-based ferry route has increased since 2008. The first year saw 118,000 reservations which increased to 177,000 in 2009, 192,000 in 2010 and 214,000 in 2011.

While the number of reservations increased, the current ferry reservation system has a 35 percent to 45 percent no-show rate.

Johnson said a deposit system would help eliminate the no-show rate. A rider will need to use a credit card to make a reservation on the route. The deposit would go toward paying the full fare for either a passenger or vehicle. Frequent travelers who use ReValue cards or have a business account won’t have to pay a deposit when they make a reservation, however, they will be billed the deposit if they fail to show up for their scheduled sailing.

The ferry system will consider adding a cash reservation system sometime in the future, Johnson said.

Implementation of the updated system for Port Townsend/Coupeville will take place this summer. It will be expanded to the San Juan Islands routes in 2013 and then the Central Puget Sound routes in 2015. The Mukilteo-to-Clinton route will be excluded from the reservation system. It will cost the ferry system $12.4 million to implement three phases of the updated reservation system.

Johnson said Washington State Ferries will conduct an extensive outreach with ferry riders this spring before the reservation system changes are made.


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