Our quaint island is home to a population of about 10,000 people.
So if you wish to visit and experience the island and its scenery, how do you get here?
Unfortunately, the only way is by the ferry, and I will tell you about the two boat schedules and how the community is experiencing frustrations due to the schedule.
Vashon Island is usually serviced by ferry through three routes, Vashon to/from Fauntleroy, Southworth to/from Vashon and the Tacoma to/from Vashon. With the Fauntleroy/Southworth/Vashon routes, commuters go back and forth through the routes on a three boat schedule, but often times the Washington State Ferry system scales-down the triangle route to a two-boat schedule.
Most often the scale-down is due to another route (i.e. the Bainbridge/Seattle, Edmonds/Kingston, etc) losing one of it’s vessels to repairs or inspections. In response, the Washington State Ferries redistributed the ferries among the routes to address the gap. This takes about five sailings out of the three routes.
Nevertheless, the schedule has usually resumed to the three boat schedule after a short time.
However, after experiencing a hectic COVID-19 year and increase in visitors to the Island, more people need the boats, and their only way out is the downsized schedule. The system is in disarray with the two boat schedules, and Vashon residents and visitors are having a hard time crossing.
Some of the issues raised are that early morning sailings have been suspended with the two boat schedules. So if you have an early meeting or appointment, you better forget to catch your ride. The long line occurrence is also common in the evening when residents are coming back from a day of work.
As a result of using smaller boats, fewer drive-on passengers can sail, and consequently, unloading boats take longer. Passengers have also stated that using the ferry with your vehicle has become such a nightmare because one has to wait longer to board. Some commuters said the long waits are a routine occurrence, affecting their day-to-day activities.
The plight continues to pile up thanks to commuters not being able to board the ferry with prepaid tickets despite the presence of an online ticketing platform. With prepaid tickets, passengers could avoid the toll booth and go straight to the boat, cutting down on waiting time. However, Washington State Ferries changed how tickets are collected, slowing down the process.
With all the issues raised, what is being done to ensure the three boat schedule is to remain permanent?
A simple search in Google news shows that there are countless occurrences of moving to a 2 boat schedule on Vashon and Washington State Ferries has been questioned and has said they have few alternative options due to the vessels being out for repairs and annual coast guard inspections. However, they have stated that they are working round the clock towards repairing the under maintenance boats. It is good to note that the ferry repairs took close to six months to restore to the sailing condition in the past.
The Washington State Ferries has emphasized their need to ensure the safety of the commuters hence the long periods of maintenance that the boats go through. The Washington State Ferry has also stated that if the state legislature approves the requested funding, a new boat could be in service by the end of 2022. The timeline seems big, but this is no shocker knowing that the state has not had a new ferry for about a decade after retiring several worn-out ferries over the past few years.
Vashon-Maury residents also often hold community meetings to reflect on the challenges they experience with the Vashon Island ferry schedule and generate ideas on changing their circumstances. There have also been talks about the need to expand the docks so that loading and unloading are quicker.
The issue is that each ferry can carry about 120 cars, but the dock is quite small. The Fauntleroy dock having being built in 1957, has space for only 80 to 90 vehicles at a time. A task force is currently in place to tackle schedule conflicts and challenges.
There are many alternatives to help avoid the long lines and frustrating ferries that include taking the 119 or 118 bus, using the park and ride and walking across then catching the C-Line or a bus in West Seattle to where you need to go. There is the passenger only (aka “PO boat” or King County Water Taxi) that many commuters take to Downtown Seattle that also connects to the Link Lightrail and many other bus routes.
The island economy is growing as more and more people start businesses, others move to the island, and tourism is also picking up. Still, if the Vashon Island ferry schedule impasse prevails, the situation will stifle the anticipated growth, and who wants that. During the good old days when sailing was not exasperating, more regular commuters said the ferry voyage was more relaxing.
They also enjoyed socializing with islanders on deck during happy hour. They described it as more of a delight than a hassle, especially for those who reside near the ferry terminal in downtown Vashon-Maury. But, unfortunately, these are not current sentiments. So let us hope the ferry schedule will go back to normality soon.