What do you know about the proposed vehicle reservation system? | Guest column

By Susan Young

Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division Assistant Secretary David Moseley and members of his staff will be holding two public meetings on Thursday, June 7. One will be held on the inter-island ferry from 11:35 a.m. until 2 p.m. The second meeting will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. in the San Juan County Council Chambers in Friday Harbor.

The proposed vehicle reservation system will be the sole agenda item for the first meeting and also on the agenda for the second meeting. If implemented, a reservation system will significantly impact vehicle travel throughout the San Juan Islands, yet little information about the proposal has been shared with the public to date. Island residents who requested information at the WSF Community Meeting held last December were assured that no decisions would be made without first seeking community input, but there are indicators that much planning has already been done with no participation from any of the island communities.

On Wednesday, May 30, a concerned group of Lopezians met at the Lopez Library meeting room to discuss these upcoming meetings, specifically to identify the questions representatives of WSF need to be asked about the vehicle reservation system, and how to best get the word out to Lopezians about the importance of these two meetings. Several critical issues were identified, including the following:

1. The WSF website states that a vehicle reservation system will result in savings to the state of $280 million in capital improvements because it will be possible to avoid expansion of ferry terminals and holding areas, but fails to mention the cost of implementation, such as retrofitting all five terminals that serve the San Juan Islands (which will be extensive in the case of Lopez Island and Shaw Island, if not impossible), and increased ongoing costs for the additional staffing that will be required at all terminals.

2. There is no mention of the fact that system-wide vehicle traffic has been declining over the last 12 years, and there are no current projections suggesting that there will be growth in the foreseeable future. Nor is it acknowledged that, thanks to the significant revisions made in scheduling two years ago, including direct boats to Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Islands, the number of overloads is far lower than in the past. Before embracing a vehicle reservation system, residents of the San Juan Islands need a cost/benefit analysis that uses real numbers for both costs and benefits. As taxpayers, we deserve a clear explanation based on facts.

The upcoming meetings are your chance to find out what has been planned, and how you can be part of that process. The first meeting will be aboard the inter-island ferry from 11:25 a.m. until 2 p.m. If you can attend this meeting, plan to be at the Lopez Terminal at 1:05 p.m.  This informal meeting will be a question-and-answer format focused on vehicle reservations.  You can be back on Lopez by 3:45 p.m. The second meeting will be in the County Council Chambers in Friday Harbor (55 Second St.), from 5 to 7 p.m. It is possible for Lopezians to attend this meeting in Friday Harbor (take the 3:50 p.m. boat there and return on the 7:45 p.m. boat). You can also attend the meeting virtually. Interactive (two-way) video conferencing will be available in the meeting room at the Lopez library. Questions may be submitted by those attending, via the interactive video conference link to the library. This is just the beginning. You can learn more by subscribing to the San Juan Islands Ferry Group website at https://sjiferrygroup.wordpress.com/.

More activities are planned as a follow-up to the June 7 meetings. You can also write to WSF and share your thoughts. Contact: Joy Goldenberg, WSF communications manager, 206-515-3411, goldenj@wsdot.wa.gov, or Brian Churchwell, VRS Program Manager, 206-515-3645, churchb@wsdot.wa.gov.

– Susan Young is a concerned resident of Lopez Islands, and co-founder of the San Juan Islands Ferry Group which consists of residents of the San Juan Islands who want to be informed about current issues related to the ferry system and who want to work with the Ferry Advisory Committee and the Washington State Ferry system to find solutions to on-going challenges.