Readers had lots of ideas on how to fix the Fauntleroy ferry crunch, in which boats regularly leave with open space even as cars wait to board, the result of a too-small dock. We posed the most popular ideas to Washington State Ferries.
It just doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult a problem to solve:
A ferry arrives at West Seattle’s Fauntleroy Terminal. There are cars lined up, waiting to board. Ferry personnel work diligently to board as many as they can, but ultimately there isn’t enough time to fill up the boat. To stay on schedule the ferry leaves less than full, with lines of fuming drivers forced to wait for the next boat.
The problem, as we wrote about last week, stems from an outdated dock that can hold fewer cars than can fit on the ferries. Additional cars are forced to line up on a city street — Fauntleroy Way Southwest — and run into a logjam at the tollbooths once cars start trickling from the dock onto the ferry.
Dozens of readers wrote in with suggestions, most of which Washington State Ferries has already considered, some of which it is now studying.
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“Why, when leaving this dock, doesn’t the ferry system put the fare-collection on the boat, instead of on the dock?” asked reader Jeff Sloan, of Bellevue.
Other ferry systems that use this method, Washington State Ferries says, have self-serve ticket machines and someone collecting tickets on board, a setup that the Fauntleroy terminal does not have.
But the bigger hindrance isn’t equipment, it’s with the trip itself. At about 20 minutes, the trip from Fauntleroy to Vashon Island isn’t long enough to give crew the time to collect tickets on board, the agency said. It would also make the trip less pleasant.
“All passengers would need to remain in their vehicles during fare collection,” the agency wrote.
Once the dock fills up, the cars on the other side of the tollbooth get delayed because they still have to stop and pay at the tollbooth after room opens up for them to pass through. Meanwhile, it’s a race against the clock to get as many of those cars through the tollbooth as possible while the ferry idles at the dock.
Two dozen readers wrote in with variations on the same solution: once the dock fills up, have the tollbooth attendants (or other Ferries staff) walk the line of cars on Fauntleroy Way, selling tickets with a mobile credit-card machine.
Any smartphone can, with a simple, inexpensive attachment, be turned into a mobile credit-card reader, so why can’t Ferries crew go car to car selling tickets?
“Once the ferry starts loading, the drivers would turn in their ticket with hardly slowing down, so the ferries could carry more cars,” reader Mike Smyth, of Bellevue, wrote.
Washington State Ferries says they’re looking at this idea, but it remains years in the future.
A couple of minor problems with the proposal:
“Employees cannot conduct business in active traffic or on Seattle city streets, so transactions would need to take place from the sidewalk on the passenger side of the vehicle,” the agency wrote. Additionally, Ferries said, it would require additional staffing to sell the tickets, while other employees monitored the tollbooths and checked receipts.
But the biggest hang-up is that the agency’s ticketing system is out of date.
“This type of technology is not compatible with our current ticketing system,” Ferries spokeswoman Hadley Rodero said. “At this time we don’t have the ability to add a separate ticketing system for Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth that isn’t compatible with the rest of our fare-collection system.”
Rodero said they’ll consider changes to the system when the agency puts together its next budget request next year.