Sunday February 14, 2016

SJC Ferry Advisory Committee Comments on Ferry Staffing Plans

The San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC)  is committed to keeping the County’s citizens in touch with financial, political and operational issues that affect the County’s primary lifeline to the mainland. On January 4, 2013, FAC chair Jim Corenman issued the following statement concerning staffing changes on state ferries and their effect on passenger capacity and the availability of ferry service:
As many are aware, there have been recent changes to the number of crew required to staff some of the ferries, which have increased operating costs. The latest chapter involves a provision by Coast Guard which allows alternate staffing levels for the Super class ferries (Elwha, Hyak, Kaleetan and Yakima), by reducing one deck crew if the upper passenger (galley) deck is closed and passengers are limited to 450, and by two deck crew if limited to 300. During the winter season, when the galleys are closed and passenger loads are light, this is a viable option for some routes to save some badly-needed operating funds.
Where things got off track is that ferries viewed this as an operational change that would be "invisible" to the public with no service impacts. While that is certainly the goal, reducing passenger capacity always has the potential to reduce service, and FAC believes that discussion was needed. We had a constructive conversation with George Capacci (Deputy Chief for operations and construction) and Ray Deardorf (Planning director). Ferries agreed that FAC should be in the loop on this issue, and provided detailed information on the planned crew changes. 
The plan for the San Juan routes is to close the upper passenger deck and reduce the crew complement by one on the Super class vessels (limiting passengers to 450), only for days when the passenger load is expected to be very light and only for the winter schedule when the galley is normally closed. For Fridays, Sundays and holidays, or for any special events days, the boats will be fully crewed with the normal passenger capacity of 1782.
For the days when a reduced capacity is planned, historical passenger loads never exceeded 300, so the limit of 450 provides a reasonable margin. Ferries has shared passenger data with FAC and we agree that the likelihood of a passenger overload is extremely low.
The savings are modest but even small savings add up, and we feel that this is a good  opportunity for ferries to reduce costs. This doesn't solve the ferries budget issues of course, and we again urge the legislature to establish a dedicated, stable funding source for ferries.
Jim Corenman
Chair, San Juan County FAC