Don’t show up, lose your deposit

KINGSTON — Ferry passengers will see a big change in Washington State Ferries June 13 when the new reservation system, Save a Spot, goes live. It’s a change commuters of the central Puget Sound routes won’t see for about three years.

David Moseley, WSF assistant secretary, said the central Sound routes — Kingston/Edmonds, Bainbridge/Seattle, Bremerton/Seattle — will be the most difficult to implement a reservation system on. The toughest of the three service areas won’t see reservations until sometime in mid-2015, if at all.

Though there are models of reservations systems out there, not many are so commuter-heavy as those in the central Sound area, he said.

There’s also the issue of taxpayer and Legislature support.

“The central Puget Sound legislators aren’t completely sold on the system either, which is why we pushed the implementation date out a few years,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-23rd District.

Though Moseley is a strong proponent of the new system, Rolfes said the Legislature will not allow anyone to implement something that is not going to work.

“We’re going to have these conversations over the next few years,” she said.

The first phase of the new system rolled out for the Anacortes/Sidney, B.C. route and commercial account routes for the San Juan Islands June 4. The Port Townsend/Coupeville is planned to finish implementing the system June 13.

The reservation system, an online tool accessed on WSDOT’s website, will begin accepting reservations for all available routes June 13 for sailings no earlier than June 17. To make a reservation, passengers must make a deposit; for example, a deposit for a regular vehicle is $11.20 of a $12.70 fare on the Port Townsend route. Current reservation systems don’t require a deposit, which means no penalty for a no-show. Under the new system, you lose your deposit if you don’t show up. But you can change your reservation without penalty.

Phase 2 will implement the system for everyone in the San Juan Islands, where terminal improvements are planned. The second phase will begin in 2013 and is scheduled to end prior to phase 3, mid-2015.

Because changes to the central Sound routes are about three years out, Moseley said it will provide plenty of time to see how its worked for others. He urges anyone that commutes on the central Sound ferries to use the other reservations to draw their own opinions. A few north end residents are already on the fence about the reservation system.

At the monthly state Department of Transportation Ferries Division community meeting June 5, Kingston resident Evan Stoll expressed his concerns. Stoll noted he is not for or against the system, but wants to see it carried out “properly.”

Among the issues Stoll raised was the reservation system creating three “classes” of users. Those using the ferry for commercial use or who frequently ride the ferry will typically have space set aside for them. The occasional rider, however, could potentially miss more ferries.

Another meeting attendee said she’s used the ferry system for 20 years. There’s no need to change what’s not broken, she said.

The reservation system is part of the Department of Transportation’s WSF 2030 long-range plan. The goal of the plan is to provide information about the needs of ferry customers, establish new operational and pricing strategies to meet those needs, and to identify vessel and terminal operations needs and capital requirements. According to a final draft of the plan finished in 2009, the work will span 22 years. A reservation system was identified as a primary demand.

According to WSDOT’s website, a successful reservation system will save the state $280 million in capital improvements “by avoiding the need to expand ferry terminals and holding areas to accommodate projected increases in vehicle traffic.”

In Kingston, a roadside holding lane is used on State Route 104 to accommodate overflow traffic. That ferry line is known to reach back near the intersection of SR 104 and Hansville and Miller Bay roads, about two miles away.

According to WSDOT, a reservation system would reduce congestion, since riders would no longer have to wait to buy a ticket and would just arrive about 30 minutes or less prior to loading.

Not all ferry routes are planned for a reservation system for non-commercial passengers. The Mukilteo/Clinton, Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth, and Point Defiance/Tahlequah routes are not in the planning process right now.

The Legislature approved $5.7 million for the reservation system through the 2013 fiscal year. A total of $15.9 million for the system and management projects have been approved.



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