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Thumbs up on ferry reservations

The Washington State Ferries’ vehicle reservation system is working as officials had hoped, decreasing traffic backups and dramatically dropping the rate of reservation “no-shows.”

“Our main goal (with the reservation system) was to spread out the demand so we could manage more customers overall,” said Brian Churchwell, Vehicle Reservation System deputy program manager.

“And the system caught on right away,” he continued. “With us offering 50 to 60 percent reservation availability this summer, all our reservation spaces filled up.”

“I would say the vast majority of the feedback we’ve received has been positive,” said Joy Goldenberg, communications manager for Washington State Ferries. “We’ve heard from customer who have said it’s nice to be able to make or change reservations online and a lot of people in the Port Townsend business community have said it’s lessening the queues on the street.”

There has been some minor confusion, such as people not understanding the fee charged when a reservation is made online. The fee collected is applied toward the overall ferry bill and is not added on to the bill.  Vehicle length also caused a little bit of confusion, officials said.

“There was a survey that showed 35 percent of customers feel their vehicle is under 14-feet and under, when in actuality, only about five percent of the vehicles were under 14-feet,” said Churchwell.

Car length is used by officials to determine how many vehicles will fit on the ferry. If a number of people who thought their vehicle is less than 14-feet long, when it is actually much longer, it reduces the amount of cars able to drive on.

“We now make all reservations based on a 20-foot length to ensure we’re reserving enough space,” Churchwell said. “Any adjustments can be made at the toll both.”

As far as reservations causing a slow down at the toll booth, Churchwell said the delays were expected.

“It goes a lot faster for a reservation holder who shows up with the barcode in hand,” he said. “Our research shows that on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville route in particular, the majority of people have a passenger with them, so even if they pay the whole amount online, they’re still going to have to pay an additional amount at the toll booth.”

“We have no way to validate whether a person is a senior, adult, or disabled online,” Churchwell continued. “That has to be done in person.”

Proposed cuts to ferry service and routes system-wide have caused the most complaints. At a community meeting Nov. 29 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, a group of more than 50 residents shared their concerns with David Moseley, the assistant secretary for the state Department of Transportation, Ferries Division.

Moseley told the crowd service cuts are necessary because the ferry system is not financially stable. . Eliminating the 12:30 a.m. departure from Clinton and the 1:05 a.m. departure from Mukilteo Monday through Friday will save the ferry system $934,000. Likewise, a proposal to extend single boat service for eight weeks (four weeks in the spring and four in the fall) on the Coupeville-Port Townsend route will save the system $486,000.

That proposal will be decided by the state legislature, but Coupeville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynda Eccles said it’s never a good thing when service cutbacks come up in conversation.

“Anytime they cut back service, it’s going to impact us in some way,” she said. “If they’re going to cut services, I would prefer they do it at the beginning of the season rather than the middle or the end, because we do still get a lot of tourists coming over well into October.”

Goldenberg said the ferry system worked closely with elected officials and business owners to hammer out a system that would be workable.

As Phase 2 is implemented, reservations will be extended to ferry service to the San Juan Islands, along with terminal improvements and system-wide reservations for commercial account customers. Phase 3 of the system will extend the reservation system to commuter routes in the Central Puget Sound region and should be implemented in 2015.

 

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