Ferry reservations slow, but smooth
By TRISTAN HIEGLER
Whidbey Examiner Staff
August 31, 2012 · Updated 12:02 PM
Ferry officials presented statistics on the new reservation system and discussed July 25 how communication and the system’s speed could be improved.
The Port Townsend-Coupeville Partnership Group met last week in Port Townsend. The Save a Spot reservation system was launched June 4 for the Anacortes-Sidney, B.C., route and June 13 for the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.
“The system overall is a little bit slower, so there is an opportunity to make improvements there,” said Brian Churchwell, deputy program manager for the system. He said ferry customers provided good data during a recent survey.
The partnership group was created in 2010 to facilitate discussion between Port Townsend and Coupeville ferry customers, stakeholders and officials.
“Overall, we’ve got a great response from our customers,” Churchwell said. “A large percentage of the people feel it was easy to make a reservation.”
According to Washington State Ferries, 33,372 reservations have been made using the new system between June 4 and July 15. From June 18 to July 15, a total of 14,143 reservations were made for the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.
The system introduced several types of accounts. Guest accounts secure a reservation without storing any personal data, while Universal accounts store payment details.
Also available are Executive accounts for businesses and Premier accounts for frequent travelers.
Most of the reservations booked through July 15 were with Guest accounts. More than 22,000 reservations were logged by Guest accounts, while Executive was the second most popular account type with 6,994. Universal accounts logged 3,956 reservations and Premier had 274.
Guest and Universal account users have to pay a deposit whenever they make reservations. The deposit amount is equal to the senior/disabled fare, according to car length.
Churchwell said customers complain that finalizing reservations at the tollbooth takes longer than it used to.
He said the best way for customers to speed up the process is to is bring a printout of their reservation confirmation page, which has a barcode on it that can be scanned for quick confirmation.
If a customer doesn’t have a confirmation page, providing the exact name and phone number the reservation was made under is the next quickest step.
He said WSF’s information technology department is currently working to improve and speed up the reservation website.
Churchwell added when WSF brings Save a Spot to other routes, it won’t be during the busiest time of the year.
“We feel the best time to launch future routes is outside the summer,” he said.
Churchwell said Phase II of the reservation system would involve forming community partnerships in the San Juan Islands this fall. He said those routes would receive the Save a Spot system next.
The WSF survey presented at the meeting went out to 4,500 customers and received 1,173 responses.
Many customers said they liked the new system. More than 250 said it was easy to use, while 190 respondents said they like that the system guarantees a place on a ferry.
However, 110 respondents cited they would like better communication from ferry officials on parts of the system. Specific concerns included more information on how much money would be owed at the tollbooth after the initial deposit, how to judge vehicle length and how far in advance they should arrive for their reservation.
Churchwell said WSF would be meeting with specific groups, including the Navy, to iron out how to make large Executive accounts operate more smoothly.
He said a smartphone app for Save a Spot could be available soon.
Two late-night weekend ferry runs have been in service this summer. While they are continuing through the rest of the summer schedule, their return is not guaranteed.
David Moseley, WSF assistant secretary, said the 10 p.m. ferry from Port Townsend and the 10:40 p.m. ferry from Coupeville typically aren’t filled to capacity.
From June 22 to July 14, the Friday- and Saturday-only ferry leaving Port Townsend had an average of 46 riders. The Coupeville ferry had an average of 18 riders.
The Kennewick and the Salish are designed to fit 64 cars and carry a maximum of 750 passengers.
“As you see, the ridership hasn’t been robust,” Moseley told members of the partnership group.
He confirmed the additional runs would continue through WSF’s summer schedule, which ends Sept. 22.