How Will The Ferry Service Survey Be Used?

The Guemes Ferry Service Objectives and Cost Survey, Second Edition (the Survey), leaves me more frustrated than the first. I just took this second survey, added a comment and when I hit continue, I ended up with the spinning wheel of death, which provided no exit. I do not know if this second survey went anywhere. How many people have such an experience and just give up on the survey? 

Further, the Survey offers a series of increased ticket costs with each option, except for the question about the parking lot surfacing, but provides little or no information to make an informed choice. Take as an example the question about the midday gap.

The first choice, scheduling a run, results in an astronomical increase of $.75 per passenger and $1.75 for car and driver on all tickets. This estimate was based on a cost adder of about $120,000 per year for this one run. As fuel costs about $47.00/run, this element is not driving the cost so high. If an 11:45am is added, the return trip will normally be docked at the Anacortes side by 12:15pm. Burke Consulting was under the impression that the lunch break was 45 minutes. In order to allow the captain on duty the full 45 minute break, a second captain would have to be brought on for this run.  The consultant also mentioned that the purser had to begin selling tickets for the next run 15 minutes ahead.  In daily operation this is more like 5 minutes, but the need for a second purser may have added to the cost. The union contract was checked and the lunch/dinner break is only 40 minutes. Another major cost adder was moving the fueling to evening hours.  Just scheduling one run, the 11:15am, on known refueling and maintenance days apparently was not considered. It is very hard to know exactly what cost elements are in the $120,000 as no cost break down was provided.  Apparently the worst case cost scenario was applied to the proposed scheduled run for the midday gap. Further, the second choice under the midday options adds ticket costs, $.25 per walk-on and up to $.75 per car and driver,  for the overload run which is already in practice. 

In a similar manner, the cost for an updated ticketing system was given the worst case cost adder of $150,000 per year as a “maintenance” fee. I contacted American Eagle, the authors of the electronic ticketing system for the Pierce County ferry, and they said their annual fee is 5% of tickets sold. Selling $1.0 million in tickets per year, their 5% fee comes to $50,000 per year. This is a disappointing figure but not one that adds $150,000 as an annual maintenance fee.  American Eagle confirmed that the $150,000 estimate did not come from them. Meanwhile, the ticketing question lays out several cost selections but there is no detail. The reader has no way to evaluate the costs or know if there are benefits, like reducing loading times, in any of these options. 

The question of adding a 9:00 pm run on Monday through Thursday is a case where the survey charges a cost to all but it is not clear about how many people might use this extra run.  It would be interesting to see how many people actually rode the 9:00pm ferry when it was offered during weekday operations in the 2006-2008 time frame.  Or how many car/drivers were on the 8:30pm run in the last year? Over time, many more comments have been made to add back the midnight runs on Friday and Saturday nights than to add a 9:00pm on Monday through Thursday evenings.    

At best, this survey is a questionable instrument for decision making.  How will this survey be used?  Will it be the basis for operational changes and increased ticket fees?

-Stephen Orsini

Tags: ferry