Ride the Ducks, the amphibious tour company that was suspended after a horrific crash on the Aurora Bridge last fall that killed five international students, will resume its tours Friday morning.
Ride the Ducks, the amphibious tour company that was shut down after a deadly September crash on the Aurora Bridge, will resume operations Friday morning.
The Ducks will follow a new route and will no longer travel over the Aurora Bridge. Instead, the Ducks will now cross the Fremont Bridge, despite earlier concerns expressed by Mayor Ed Murray’s office.
Mark Firmani, spokesman for Ride the Ducks, said the first two Friday tours, slated for 11 a.m., had sold out by Thursday. Three additional tours are scheduled for noon, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The company opened online and phone reservations around 10:45 a.m. Thursday, Firmani said. “The first boat is a combination of paying guests and friends and family who asked to be on the first inaugural run,” he said.
Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), said the vehicles are not permitted to travel on Highway 99 or the Aurora Bridge. Instead, the vehicles will travel along Westlake Avenue and then cross the Fremont Bridge before heading onto Lake Union.
The new route is part of an agreement between SDOT and the company, which also requires that two crew members be on board the amphibious vehicles during tours.
Earlier this week, Brian Tracey, president of Ride the Ducks Seattle, said he came to an agreement with Murray’s office regarding their route and operation on city streets and waterways. The agreement stipulates that the company will add a tour guide to every tour, allowing the captain to focus on vehicle operation, and that the tour route will not include the use of the Aurora Bridge. The tours instead will travel on the nearby Fremont Bridge.
On Sept. 24, a Ducks vehicle rammed into a bus chartered by North Seattle College, killing five international students and injuring dozens of other people. In a preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that a defective left front axle on the Ducks vehicle caused the accident.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) suspended the company’s operations four days after the September crash.
Last month, the UTC issued findings of a three-month investigation that found Ride the Ducks had violated 442 safety regulations since its last review in late 2012. Most of the violations involved minor paperwork problems, but the agency also found violations to one acute and six critical regulations, leading to an “unsatisfactory rating” against Ride the Ducks.
Nonetheless, the UTC recommended that some Ride the Ducks vehicles — smaller versions than the one involved in the crash — be allowed to return to operations while addressing the safety violations.
Amanda Maxwell, UTC spokeswoman, said Thursday that Ride the Ducks has to file a safety plan with her agency by the end of the month explaining how the company has made corrections that ensure a similar crash doesn’t happen. She also said the UTC has “no jurisdiction over the routes” they use.
In December, Murray’s office sent a letter to the UTC opposing the agency’s recommendation to allow the vehicles back on the road.
In its letter, the mayor’s office said the proposed route over the Fremont Bridge is “unacceptable” and “would pose even greater safety risks to the public” because there are more vulnerable pedestrians and bicyclists on that route.
Ahmed Darrat, transportation operations manager for SDOT, said Thursday that Ride the Ducks presented the city with its proposed routes about two weeks ago.
“They provided us with their proposed routes. We provided them advisement on where they should use caution,” Darrat said. “We didn’t look at alternate routes.”
Darrat said SDOT did its best to analyze details about the traffic history, including crashes, on the new route.
“The agreement was a voluntary agreement between the city and Ride the Ducks,” Darrat said. “We think, if operated and maintained properly, then this is a safe route.”
The next step, said SDOT spokesman Sheridan, is for Murray to ask the City Council for an ordinance to codify the requirement that the Ducks have two operators — one driver and one guide — while traveling in the city.