Ferry reservations plan goes north

The state ferry system has used Kingston as a model in its study of a reservation system, but Kingston will likely not be the guinea pig.

In a draft of its Vehicle Reservations Predesign Study released Wednesday, Washington State Ferries planners recommended a new reservation system be tested on the Port Townsend and San Juan Island routes before it is brought to central Puget Sound routes. The proposal would bring reservations to the Kingston-to-Edmonds run in 2015 at the earliest.

The draft of the study has been forwarded to state lawmakers for consideration the upcoming legislative session.

Ferries had been working with a panel of ferry users from Kingston and Edmonds since the spring to sort through the details of a potential reservation system. Ferries chief David Moseley said the study group decided the recreation-based northern routes would be a friendlier test for reservations than the Kingston route, with its jumble of tourists, freight and commuters.

“The option we’ve chosen is to start with the simplest and least complicated routes and progress to the more complex,” Moseley said. “We want to make sure we’ve tested these things out, to make sure it can work for routes like Kingston/Edmonds, like Bainbridge, like Bremerton.”

Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee member Dennis Cziske said he is disappointed by ferries’ proposal to not use Kingston as the test route. Cziske said he believes reservations would shorten Kingston’s wait lines and thinks the northern routes won’t be an adequate test for the system.

“There is a monumental difference between the routes they’re thinking about putting it on and Kingston and Bainbridge because of the volume of vehicles that use those routes,” Cziske said.

The Legislature in its 2009 session instructed ferries to study a vehicle reservation system. Ferries chose the Kingston/Edmonds run as its test case because it has a varied ridership and problems with late boats and long waiting lines.

Ferry planners believe the reservation system could help disperse the lines and avoid costly waiting area expansions.

If the reservation plan for Kingston is postponed, Moseley said there are a few things ferries can do in the interim to alleviate some of the traffic problems.

One option, he said, is to improve signage on the highways. For example, signs on the Olympic Peninsula could display wait times for the Bainbridge and Kingston terminals, letting them decide sooner which ferry to use.

Moseley said ferries will continue to discuss the possibility of rerouting the entrance to the Kingston terminal so waiting lines won’t jam downtown traffic. It will also consider reducing the number of ferry runs on the Kingston route to keep boats running on time.

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