SEATTLE -- Washington State Ferries (WSF) delivered a 102-page action plan to the Governor Wednesday in an attempt to improve the system, which the KING 5 Investigators have found is riddled with inefficiencies and wasteful spending.
The action plan is the Washington State Ferries' (WSF) response to 36 recommendations given in September by an expert panel assembled from ferry systems across the country. The panel, made up of members from the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA), of which WSF is a member, concluded WSF is a “well-run industry leader.”
However, they also identified areas of improvement.
Recommendation: Manager aboard each boat
WSF says it agrees with most recommendations, including making the Captain on each run a manager, as opposed to the current system where Captains are employees represented by the union Masters Mates & Pilots. WSF says making this change would hopefully lead to more accountability with the crew, including cutting down on overtime and making sure the sailings are on time. Currently, no one in management is aboard the vessels.
The WSDOT Ferries Division action plan states: ”Washington State Ferries (WSF) believes the PVA Panel's recommendation that the vessel Master (Captain) act in the capacity of management's representative is the most important recommendation given to the Governor. Making the Captain the management representative on the vessel would allow WSF to develop a set of management and performance objectives associated with the operation of the vessel that the Captain would be responsible for and held accountable for meeting.”
But making this switch won't be automatic. Current union contracts do not allow for a change in status for Captains to move into management positions. Becoming managers means Captains would give up their long-time benefit of earning overtime.
Recommendation: Allow national bidding to build new ferries
The PVA also recommended WSF get in line with what every other ferry system in the country does: allow nation-wide bidding on contracts to build new ferries. Current Washington State Law requires ferries be built in-state.
Last week, the KING 5 Investigators uncovered that WSF’s newest vessel, the MV Chetzemoka, is the most expensive boat ever built in the country. The total cost came to $80.1 million. Using the industry standard of calculating costs by how many cars a ferry can carry, the Chetzemoka cost $1.2 million per car slot. That’s more than double the industry average of $500,000 per car slot.
WSF's response? Further study is needed.
According to the Action Plan, “WSF will evaluate this further in advance of the next vessel procurement contracting opportunity, which is currently expected to be in about 10 years.
While WSF appreciates the logic behind this recommendation, it believes a change in policy at this time is unnecessary. They state: "The current new construction projects (64 and 144 car vessels) are under contract with Todd Shipyards. The 64 car vessels are already under construction, and cannot be changed. Construction of the 144 car vessels has not begun, but the contract for the 144‐car vessels would require a termination of the contract, new legislation, and a subsequent national rebid. Given the costs, time delays, and possible legal implications of terminating this contract and rebidding the vessels, WSF is not considering bidding these vessels nationwide."
WSF has identified more than $3 billion of unfunded capital projects over the next 20 years; most of it coming from the need to replace vessels, with no money to get the job done.
Over the last eight months, KING 5 has produced 15 stories in an ongoing investigation “Waste on the Water.” The series has detailed millions of dollars of wasted taxpayer dollars and a lack of accountability at WSF.