Ferry reservations expand at Keystone

The standby wait at Coupeville reached two hours one Friday this month while other drivers with the foresight to make a reservation for the ferry that crosses Admiralty Inlet scooted onto the boat.

To lessen such waits in the future, ferry officials are hoping more people will make a reservation. To encourage that, plans are in the works to increase the reservation space on ferries serving the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville ferry route.

The ferry system currently devotes half of the vehicle space on the 64-car ferries for vehicles that make reservations. Brian Churchwell, deputy reservation program manager for Washington State Ferries, said that, once the busy summer season wraps up, the ferry system will examine increasing the amount of space to somewhere between 70 percent and 80 percent.

The most recent incarnation of the reservation system was implemented in June on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville ferry route and the Anacortes-to-Sidney, B.C., ferry routes.

The Port Townsend-to-Coupeville (formerly Keystone) route had a reservation system for several years when a smaller 50-car ferry served on the route. The big difference now is motorists have to make a deposit in order to make a reservation.

The deposit, which is equal to a senior/disabled fare of a driver’s vehicle, improves the rate at which people who make a reservation actually use it.

Churchwell said that with the deposit requirement, 93 percent of the people who make a reservation show up to use it. Last year, the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville ferry route had a 35 to 40 percent no-show ratio. He added that improvement have allowed staff to better accommodate people who make a reservation.

Some people last year would make multiple reservations throughout the day. Susan Harris-Huether, customer service manager for Washington State Ferries, said she knew of several people who would make four-to-five reservations throughout a day they planned to ride the ferry because they weren’t sure when they would actually show up.

The new reservation system, which has tallied 55,000 reservations since going live, has hit some snags since being implemented.

People are enduring an extended wait time at the ticket booth, particularly at the Coupeville side of the route. Harris-Huether said that people often don’t have their paperwork ready, most importantly, a printout containing the bar code reservation.

“We’re looking at making transaction times faster in Coupeville,” Churchwell said.

In addition, she said people aren’t using the correct vehicle length when making a reservation, especially when it comes to the cheapest, under 14 feet in length fare. Churchwell pointed out that only 5 percent of the cars meet that requirement despite what owners might guess.

Harris-Huether said that Toyota Prius owners are the biggest violators. When someone comes to the ticket booth with a larger vehicle than  specified on the reservations, then the ticket agent has to measure the vehicle and make adjustments accordingly.

Churchwell also said adjustments will be made in response to businesses that have fleets of vehicles that use the reservation system.

The new reservation system is the first of a three-phase effort to expand it throughout the system. Ferry officials want the system to better control volumes and encourage use during slow times.

The next phase includes expanding the reservation system throughout the San Juan Islands and allowing commercial vehicle reservations throughout the ferry system.

Churchwell said informative meetings should take place during the fall and the next part of the reservation expansion should begin in 2014. So far, Clinton to Mukilteo reservations have been exempted due to local opposition, although commercial rigs may be allowed to reserve a space.


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