Fare increases for ferry riders have been put on hold because of the waste of taxpayer dollars exposed by the KING 5 Investigators in a continuing series “Waste on the Water."
At its last meeting, the Washington State Transportation Commission voted unanimously to “delay further consideration of ferry fare adjustments." The commission sent a letter to Governor Chris Gregoire about its decision on May 19th.
Over the last two months, KING 5 has uncovered skyrocketing, institutionalized overtime, lucrative perks for a select group of employees, and a lack of managerial oversight in containing costs at Washington State Ferries (WSF). The state’s ferry system is the largest in the country. It is in dire financial straits; yet the KING 5 Investigators have found systemic problems in wasteful spending.
One example of the waste exposed by KING includes a group of workers who were paid to drive to and from work for years on end simply because their positions were labeled a “Special Project." Ten days after the story about this perk was broadcast, the ferry system put an end to this practice, which had been in effect for 30 years.
Another example of wasteful spending involves a select group of employees with the title of Staff Chief Engineers who routinely see their salaries balloon with out-of-control, self-assigned overtime. Some of the Staff Chief Engineers, approximately 12 of 21 men in these highly regarded positions, have collected salaries between 25 % and 105% above their base salaries year after year. KING 5 was unable to get answers as to why the overtime apparently was not monitored or questioned by supervisors.
Transportation Commission Chairman Carol Moser wrote the letter to the governor. “The Commission supports our state ferry system and understands the vital role it plays in our state’s transportation network. But the ferry system faces an unsustainable future if long-term funding is not secured, thus making it of the utmost importance that WSF be operated in the most efficient and transparent manner if we are to ensure widespread public support moving forward,” wrote Moser.
In addition to quashing the travel time and mileage pay for workers on “Special Projects." the Director of State Ferries, David Moseley, instituted other cost-saving measures in response to the “Waste on the Water” continuing investigation. Moseley immediately ordered managers to find ways to cut overtime. In conjunction with the governor, Moseley has assembled an expert panel to review WSF operations and practices and to make recommend improvements. Governor Gregoire has also asked the State Auditor’s Office to find ways to improve the ferry system’s payroll systems.
The Transportation Committee decided it wasn’t prudent or fair to the public to proceed with hiking prices to ride the ferries until the reviews prompted by KING 5 are complete. “..the Transportation Commission unanimously voted to delay further consideration of ferry fare adjustments until the various ferry operational reviews are completed,” wrote Moser. “We applaud the efforts you (Gov. Gregoire) and (Transportation) Secretary Hammond have initiated by conducting a thorough assessment of WSF’s existing practices related to compensation of operating personnel. We look forward to receiving progress reports on these efforts and we stand ready to assist you in any way that we can.”
A 2.5% fare increase is currently assumed in the WSF budget.