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Level of service key to ferry future

Ray Deardorf, center, planning director for Washington State Ferries, speaks with members of the Regional Transportation Policy Administration Wednesday morning. Todd Carlson, planning manager for the Department of Transportation, is to the left of Deardorf.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Ray Deardorf, center, planning director for Washington State Ferries, speaks with members of the Regional Transportation Policy Administration Wednesday morning. Todd Carlson, planning manager for the Department of Transportation, is to the left of Deardorf.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

With legislators busy hashing out the future of the troubled Washington State Ferry System, transportation officials were on Whidbey Island Wednesday to update a group of elected officials about the next steps.

Ray Deardorf, director of the ferry system’s planning department, attended the Regional Transportation Policy Organization meeting in Coupeville to talk about the level-of-service standards that will be developed after the Legislature finalizes the ferry system’s long-range plan.

Currently, there are two proposals submitted to the Legislature. The first would restore a second ferry at the Port Townsend/Keystone route, pay for relocation of the Mukilteo ferry terminal and basically maintain the current level of ferry service. It also comes with a significant budget shortfall.

Option B, which includes a smaller deficit, would cause significant cuts in the ferry system, including leaving only one vessel serving out of Keystone even in the busy spring and summer months.

Deardorf said scenario B would retire the aging vessels in the fleet and not replace some of them.

The public comments on the draft suggested the ferry system take into account economic factors, and emphasize the idea the ferries are a critical part of the state highway system, Deardorf said. He said that people are concerned about a possible reservation system for ferry users and the requirement that ferries be built within the state.

He predicted the final plan approved by the Legislature will fall somewhere in between the two proposals.

“Likely one of the outcomes is somewhere in between,” Deardorf said.

Once the Legislature decides on a long-term plan for the ferry system, ferry officials will start working on developing new level-of-service standards, especially if a reservation system is implemented throughout the region.

Currently the level of service standard, which is the threshold at which additional sailings would be added, is measured by average boat-wait time. For the Port Townsend to Keystone route, it’s a one-boat wait and for the Mukilteo to Clinton route, it’s a two-boat wait.

Deardorf suggested that the standard be changed to “what percentage of sailings should be full before we need to add more sailings.”

RTPO member Jennifer Meyer questioned how a reservation system would affect commuters who use the ferries on a daily basis.

Deardorf said the reservation system could be catered to meet the needs of individual driving groups. A reservation system is in place on the Keystone run, but it’s far less busy than the commuter-heavy Clinton route.

Ferry chief visits today

Director of Washington State Ferries David Moseley will be attending a public meeting in Langley today, Feb. 28, to listen to ferry users’ concerns.

The meeting is scheduled for 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Langley Middle School Auditorium, 723 Camano Ave. Local elected officials will also be present to lobby the ferry leader for improved service on Whidbey Island.

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