Experts suggest major changes to ferry system



Bio | Email | Follow: @SFrameK5

Posted on September 9, 2010 at 2:49 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 29 at 2:51 PM

SEATTLE - A KING 5 investigation has led to a list of proposed reforms for Washington State Ferries (WSF). Thursday Governor Chris Gregoire unveiled findings by an expert panel from the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) tasked with finding ways to improve WSF, which is the largest ferry system in the country.

The state spent $90,000 on the report, which made 36 recommendations for improvement. The independent reviewers gave generally good marks to WSF. "WSF management is dealing with a very complex system and by all objective measures is doing a good job," wrote the panel.

One of the top concerns, however, was that there is too much beurocratic red tape bungling up the ferry system. "An important point I'd like to make is the excessive oversight, which added expenses and inefficiences for the ferry system," said panel chairman Darrell Bryan.

Governor Gregoire said the legislature has added to the excessive oversight by asking for a study from WSF nearly every year. "You can't be effective or efficient with constant questioning, oversight, study, audit, study, audit," said Gregoire.

The Governor asked that an panel of experts representing different ferry systems across the country to convene shortly after KING 5 began airing its Waste on the Water investigation, which exposed millions of dollars of waste in excessive overtime and questionable perks for select employees as well as a lack of accountability within the system.

To create more accountability onboard each vessel and to hopefully cut down un unnecessary overtime, the panel suggested making the Captain of each boat a member of management instead of a union employee, which is the current situation. The panel said it was standard in other places around the country to have the Captain be a manager.

Among other suggestions, the panel says the state should reduce the number of engineers and designers on its capital projects, and seek bids for new ferries from throughout the nation instead allowing only in-state builders to bid on projects, which has been state law for 18 years. It also recommends the system adopt automatic annual fare increases, rather than relying on large "catch-up" fare boosts. The PVA suggests the state consider the option of getting out of the ferry business altogether and make it a privately run system. It also suggested loading and unloading the boats would be smoother if cars went first and not bicycles.

Click here to see the entire list of recommendations. 

The governor wants an "Action Plan" from WSF based on these recommendations on her desk by November 15.