Keystone reservations begin on Monday

Islanders can soon breeze right past that long line of cars waiting for the Keystone-to-Port Towsend ferry if they make a reservation.

In the coming days the state Department of Transportation will start implementing different phases of a reservation system for the ferry route.

Ferry officials hope the reservation system will reduce waiting times for a route that will have extremely limited vehicle service during the busy summer months.

The route was formerly served by two Steel Electric class ferries during the summer, which could hold more than 60 vehicles each. But now it’s served only by the Steilacoom II, which holds a meager 50 cars.

“The Port Townsend/Keystone reservation program is designed to make the best possible use of the limited space on the 50-car ferry serving that route,” said David Moseley, assistant director of the State Ferries, in a news release.

Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard is looking forward to seeing the new system in action.

“I’m excited to see how this is going to work,” Conard said, explaining that the reservation system provides some predictability to the ferry during the busy summer months, which could encourage more people to head into town and shop.

The ferry system is holding a training session for local business owners Tuesday, May 13, to help them assist visitors with using the new reservation system.

Hadley Greene, communications manager for the ferry system, said that the reservation program will be rolled out in phases. Starting May 12, telephone reservations will be accepted for travel beginning May 19. Folks can start making reservations online beginning May 21.

To make a reservation, call 1-888-808-7977, or 511 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Motorists with a reservation should arrive no more than 90 minutes before their departure time.

Motorists arriving less than 30 minutes before their departure time will lose their reservation.

Greene said the reservation system will provide the best possible use of the ferry and help minimize waiting times, at least for those who make reservations.

The $200,000 provided by the Legislature for the service will provide staffing and start up costs for the new system, Greene said.

There will be other changes aimed at expediting traffic on the Keystone route.

* The expiration dates for full-fare, single-ride tickets will be extended to 90 days beginning May 12, up from the current seven-day expiration date. This means fewer trips to the ticket booth.

* Ferry officials will also eliminate the 30-minute “lockout” on multi-ride tickets beginning June 5. Currently, multi-ride tickets can be used only once in a 30-minute period. By removing this restriction, families can share a multi-ride ticket and it can be used to pay for more than one vehicle.

* The ferry system is offering additional sailings of the Steilacoom II starting May 11 and continuing through Oct. 13.

Ferry service out of Central Whidbey will be limited until the spring of 2010 when the first of two new ferries is expected to be finished. They’re supposed to go out to bid in July.

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