(Note: This was also posted in reply to comments made by Colleen, but I think the issue is important and the article thoughtful enough to warrant a separate post. This will make it easier for people to find and comment on. Wynne)
The Ferry system as we know it, exists on a balance of the operating costs VS the income at the fare box. As Bud Jewell so aptly put forth in his fare argument of the 1990S? of “Increased fares result in a death spiral of ridership” which taken to it’s end means that fares will be incredibly high with almost no one riding the ferry. Some of us maintain that the last round of fare increases have indeed decreased the fare box with lower car crossings and more walk-ons. This is a very delicate balance that requires more than casual evaluation.
With the Lummi’s requesting decreased runs, this adds another complication to the problem. In actuality, if we are to maintain the character of life out here we are used to, maintain our property values and other wise preserve our lifestyle, there is only one answer to this problem, a larger Ferry.
I know this will raise the hackles of some in the community who believe the Whatcom Chief is perfect , but now is the time to pursue this.
If you look at the Run Time Spreadsheets I wrote which are on this site under Documents (private) you will see that by upgrading to a 54 car Ferry the size of the Pierce County’s Christine Anderson would reduce the runs from 39 a day to 26, likely even further, and still handle the current traffic. This is a lot of decreased runs. The bigger ferry would not be as weather affected as what we have now, have a slower moment mass and could be docked at a lower speed thereby further decreasing the docking wakes. With the larger size it could basically idle across and still maintain a maximum two trips an hour and likely burn no more fuel than we do now, with far less mechanical wear and tear on the propulsion components. This size is also classified to run with the same number of crew and License’s that we have now. The other benefit would be that in the summer when demand is the highest, it would easily handle the increased seasonal load (the only time when the Ferry runs at a profit) and still be way beneath the current number of trips.
Just to let you know, I was not one who favored the purchase of the “new” Ferry several years ago. I felt the design was questionable for the run and would not have brought any benefits to the Community. I did however leave the Council Hearing with mixed feelings after the project was terminated.
As my brother Dave so succinctly said at the meeting with the Lummi’s “the Ferry is 47 years old. If you had a 47 year old car you would likely only drive it in parades”. The Whatcom Chief is 47 years old, it’s a wonderful vessel, it’s just getting old. It has thinning decks, corrosion in the deck house, non ADA compliant lane widths, old wiring and other issues. I do not think it ought to be thrown away, it can be last for many years in a reserve capacity, especially for dry dock periods, and be shared with other Counties with Ferries who would contribute to it’s maintenance.
Further we have a very narrow window of possibility obtaining an excellent much newer used 54 car Ferry, if we get on it now. This which would cost far less than building even a 35 car model, which has questionable carry capacity, especially in light of mandated reduced runs. Another good reason to get the 54 car vessel is that if we ever have to do emergency runs to Fairhaven during flooding, it would handle the weather much more comfortably than we can now. .
It’s time to consider of all the parameters, think of the ferry as our road only, and not use it as a Social Engineering Tool, if we don’t want more people moving here, don’t run the larger one as often. Let’s get on this right now as we have everyone’s attention.