By Jim Corenman, Chair, San Juan Islands Ferry Advisory Committee
As many are aware, there have been recent changes to the crew requirements for some of the ferries. The latest chapter involves a recent provision by Coast Guard to reduce the required crew for the Super class ferries (Elwha, Hyak, Yakima) by one deck crew if the upper passenger (galley) deck is closed and passengers are limited to 450, and by two 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 funding.
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, FAC feels strongly that reducing passenger capacity always [has] the potential to reduce service, and discussion with the FAC and the public was needed. We had a constructive conversation with George Capacci (Deputy Chief and head of operations) 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 compliment by one on the Super class vessels, for winter only (when the galley is normally closed) and only for days when the passenger load is expected to be very light. For Fridays, Sundays and and holidays, or for any special events days, the boats will be fully crewed with the normal passenger capacity of around 1782. On the other days the passenger limit will be 450.
The intent is that by fully crewing the boat on Fridays, Sundays and holidays this lower limit will never be reached. For the days for which reduced capacity is planned, historical passenger loads never exceeded 300, so the limit of 450 provides a good margin. Ferries has shared that 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.