Reduced Runs, New Ferry?

(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.


4 thoughts on “Reduced Runs, New Ferry?

  1. Who said the Lummis are requesting reduced runs? They didn’t say anything about that the other night, nor have I seen anything like that in other reports.

    The County folks are the only ones I’ve heard talking about reducing the number of runs. They think it might be a way to try to save money to offset the higher operating costs that will probably be part of the new lease.

    From my studies of ferry operating costs in recent years, I think it’s extremely unlikely that reducing the number of runs will save much money, if any at all, except perhaps a little fuel. What it will do is reduce opportunities to use the ferry, which means fewer fares collected, thus necessitating even higher fares to cover the lost revenues.

    As you know, Jim, cars and boats wear very differently. Professional marine surveyors have reported that our current ferry is in excellent condition and should continue to provide safe reliable service for at least several more decades at current maintenance levels.

    • From what I heard, I believe the Lummi’s are indeed asking for mitigation of the damage the Ferry wake causes to their boats and fisheries. Until an improved docking facility is built, that means reduced runs.

      I do agree with you about the operating costs, unless the County decides to reduce the hours of operation or heaven help us, go to one crew shift. Then somehow we would all have to get across in those hours, yes some would leave, the rest would have to pack ourselves into that narrow time window envelope, in which, the Ferry would run full You read the comments in the paper, there are those in the County that think we are elite snobs and would favor our comeupance, This one part we had better be watching closely.

      As for the boat, it is holding its own in carry capacity right now due the bad economy, when times get better, it will be hopelessly inadequate, remember the lines in 2004? The small size of the Ferry has not stopped either the increase of construction or population.

      The opinion of the condition of the Vessel the Council bought off on was the opinion of one Marine Surveyor, there are several others who believe differently. So far a number of his expressed opinions have been proven questionable. The pin hole corrosion of the hull plating was not due to stray electrical fields, testing of the docks showed there were not any, The corrosion is due to the age of the plating in saltwater. Last year the shipyard had to replace more steel than projected including some unforeseen structural components.

      Further, the Whatcom Chief takes much more of a stress pounding than other vessels due to it’s constant stop/start cycling. Metal fatigue, it likely show up soon. I know of no other Ferry that is run this hard.

      The question becomes how much money do you want to keep putting into something that is already obsolete? How much steel do you want to keep replacing? When do you want to replace the thinning decks, the house, the wiring, the now out-of pollution compliance engines? Do you want to spend an absolute fortune to sponson it and bring its deck width into ADA compliance? If we continue to use it constantly as we do now, all these issues will have to be addressed, some quite soon. If we put it into a reserve status it can last a long time and maybe the other Counties that would be in the reserve pool with us could help pay for the needed repairs. As it stands this Vessel is a great source of income for a shipyard (s).

      No it’s not a car, most people do not keep a daily driver that is over 20 years old. Boats do last longer, this one a lot longer. Other Ferry Systems here and abroad, mandate vessel replacement at no more than 35 years, there has to be a reason. This is not 1997, it’s 2010, the Chief is a wonderful boat, unfortunately, time has moved on in all categories.

      Just in case you are wondering, I have spent an incredible amount of time on this issue, researching in person, on line and on the phone, riding other Ferries, conversing with Marine Engineers, Vessel Operators, Ferry Crew people, Engine Manufacturers, Shipyards, other Counties, the State Ferry System, the Coast Guard, out-of-state Private Ferry Operators, and many others. If I did not feel this was of utmost importance, I would not be advancing it at this time.

      We have quite a complex situation at hand, the Ferry boat is only one component needed to achieve a “Unified and Comprehensive Approach to a Long Term Solution.”. This is an integral part too has to be considered.


    • I agree with Jim D — sooner or later, a new ferry will be needed.

      I wonder if a small group of interested islanders (and maybe others) who are interested in exploring ferry design issues (pros, cons, options, costs in time & money) might not want to form their own group. Such a group might or might not be part of PLIC, depending on what works best.

      I do hope that if such a group would take care to continue our growing pattern of civil, respectful discussion, and take care to solicit a wide range of opinions by islanders and others and communicate those to the rest of us. For me, this isn’t just about ‘social harmony’ but a keystone element in fully examining various options.

      Regardless of how this or other focused discussions around the ferry develop, please know that that the ferry forum will welcome postings, under the same Forum Rules that hold for everyone.

  2. Wynn,

    Thank you for the response. I too am of the same mind, I do believe we need to explore this option this. Further I believe we need to form a Ferry Advisory board with the “new” Ferry as only one of the item on the agenda. The other main topic would be a working liaison with the County to make sure the Ferry operates in a financially prudent and efficient matter that benefits all of us.

    I will be glad to share the information I have ,earned with anyone who wants to know, some of it was not easy to find..

    I will be pleased to help form the above group, if any others are interested, please let me know.

    Jim, 319-0284

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