SEATTLE – Gov. Chris Gregoire has scheduled an announcement on Thursday about the future of Washington State Ferries, following a KING 5 Investigation that exposed millions of dollars in waste.
While it's unlikely the state will get out of the ferry business entirely, one option Gregoire has looked at is privatizing the system.
The governor ordered a top-to-bottom review of how the state's ferry system is run – a review the state transportation secretary says was a result of the KING 5 Investigators series "Waste on the Water."
The initial report was released last fall but, in a letter, the governor asked the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) to dig deeper into how the system is run.
" … privatization of some state services should be considered," the governor wrote.
It's an idea she hinted at when pressed about the need for change by KING 5's Susannah Frame.
"I'm asking if we should privatize the ferry system, turn it over to the private sector and let them run it," said Gregoire.
The second report was quietly sent to the governor late last month. The PVA did not make any specific single recommendation, rather looking at six vastly different operating models. Perhaps the most controversial was a total privatization of the system
While private ferries are common in Europe, there are only a handful in the United States.
The group looked at the Bridgeport and Jefferson Steamboat Company. Founded in 1883 by circus legend, P.T. Barnum, the fleet consists of three boats. The privately held company carries 1 million people and 380,000 cars a year. The fare for the 17-mile crossing is $51for a car and driver.
The other model looked at is a public-private partnership - the New York Waterway. The public sector provides the terminals and for-profit ferry companies operate the service using their own vessels.
But they are a much different beast than the car ferries plying Washington's waters. British Columbia's ferries are much more similar to ours. In the late 90s after a $400 million foot ferry fiasco, the B.B. system spun off from a government corporation to a government-related entity and indications are efficiency has improved. A similar move in Washington would require a change in the Constitution.