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Ferry reservation study meets skepticism in Kingston

KINGSTON — Flexibility will determine whether a Kingston ferry reservation system sinks or floats.

That was the message delivered to Washington State Ferries planners by a skeptical crowd of about 30 Kingston ferry riders Tuesday evening. Many said they were worried a reservation system would hurt riders who don't travel on a set schedule.

Psychiatric nurse Evelyn Schwerin said she is on call with Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

"They'll call me and ask me to jump on the next ferry," she said. "That's never been a problem in the past.

Building in the flexibility to allow for spontaneous travel and last-minute plan changes has been the biggest challenge of the Kingston reservation study.

Ferries planners have been working with a group of ferry users from Kingston and Edmonds to design a reservation system for the route. The Legislature instructed ferries to study the feasibility of reservations and the Kingston pilot program will be brought before the Legislature for approval in January.

Planners believe the reservation system could cut down on long waiting lines and save the state more than $290 million by avoiding holding area expansions if it was used across the system.

One way Washington State Ferries could allow flexibility in the reservation system is to make only a portion of the boats available for reservations.

The amount of space set aside for reservations will depend on the popularity of the particular sailing. Up to 90 percent of space boats on high-traffic sailings could be available to riders with reservations.

"This 90 percent is important because it's what will deal with the backup," ferries consultant Michael Hodgins said. "That's kind of an important stake in the ground."

Space on ferries would be opened for reservations in phases, some as early as six months in advance, some within days and hours of the sailing. Reservations could be made online, over the phone or at kiosks. A reservation could be bumped from one sailing to another for free but there would probably be a fee for canceled reservations.

A "priority access" program would allow registered riders first dibs on a reserving a portion of the boat. Commercial users would be elligible as would any rider willing to sign up for an account and carry a minimum balance.

Many more details of the system have yet to be finalized. A draft is due to legislators by Dec. 15.

At the Tuesday meeting the fledgling plan was met with a stream of questions and criticism.

Sequim resident Tami Wall, who uses the Kingston ferry to commute to her job as an elementary school teacher, said the complexity of the reservation system would drive away riders.

"I hate to use the word, but it seems very elitist to me that you would need an account, and a credit card and a cell phone to get on a Washington State Ferry," Wall said.

Kingston resident Rebecca Richardson said she wasn't sure which ferry she could catch and agreed that a reservation system would just add complication.

Ferries chief David Moseley dared the crowd to imagine a Kingston where ferry riders didn't have to wait for hours in line.

"What if, and I'm serious about this, what if you didn't have to do that?"

Miss the meeting?

Comments and questions regarding the Kingston reservation system can be sent to David Moseley at moseled@wsdot.wa.gov.

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