WA: State Transpo Sec: 'We Are Looking to Increase Reliability' on Ferries

Aug. 21--BREMERTON -- A 25-year transit commuter when she worked in Oregon, Lynn Peterson says she knows how frustrating service delays and cancellations can be.

The state's transportation secretary has ordered a full, independent review of what went wrong Friday night when the Bremerton ferry run was overloaded by almost 500 people. Her boss, Gov. Jay Inslee, also has given her a new task: minimize service disruptions aboard the recently beleaguered Washington State Ferries as much as possible in the near term.

Still, she defends the ferry system's overall record and says the ferry captain aboard the Cathlamet on Friday night did the right thing by promptly turning back to Bremerton, rather than sail onto Seattle grossly above the boat's 1,200 capacity.

Even in her own days of commuting, serving in different roles including Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's transportation policy adviser, she says she understood that sometimes breaks in service happen.

"Safety is No. 1 to me, and No. 1 to the ferries," she said.

There are things she can't control, like tide cancellations on the Port Townsend-Coupville run. But any others will be scrutinized, she vows.

"We're reviewing the protocols," she said. "We need to make sure we're not complacent. We are looking to increase reliability."

Ferries officials point to data from 2013 and 2014 to make the case some blunders this year are aberrations. They point to a 99.5 percent rate of successful sailings.

"There are 42-year veterans (of the system) that have never heard of this happening," WSDOT spokesman Lars Erickson said of Friday night's overloading, in which state troopers had to be called in to remove passengers.

Peterson said changes are in store in how crews are dispatched to routes, the product of what she called "good labor negotiations" with the unions that work aboard the ferries. She promises more details in the coming weeks.

The ferry system's summer of troubles comes as it searches for its next leader. David Moseley, its chief since 2008, retired in April. An initial hiring process was scrapped when current interim chief George Capacci dropped out and only one candidate -- former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg -- was left standing.

This time around, Peterson said they've brought on a recruiter to do "a wider sweep," in the search for candidates, one that she said will "turn over every rock."

The application period runs through Aug. 31, she said. Like the first process, Peterson's invited a stakeholder's group to help make a recommendation. The panel includes Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, officials from WSDOT, the Inland Boatman's Union, San Juan County Commissioner Jamie Stephens and Darrell Bryan, CEO of Victoria Clipper.

But ultimately, the pick of the next ferries chief is Peterson's alone.

She's looking for someone well versed in "community engagement," with a rich knowledge in transit system operations and marine asset management, who can work well with unions and the Coast Guard alike. But she acknowledged that a candidate likely will not have every skill required for such a multifaceted job.

"No one can be trained in every part," she said.



Copyright 2014 - Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.