We blew it this morning. Frank’s post on Washington State Ferries asks:

Instead of asking 484 people to leave the ferry, one assumes they could have simply taken off a few dozen cars instead.

As our alert commenters pointed out, that’s a terrible assumption, as the passenger limits are likely limited by safety equipment. The point is, we didn’t check, and that’s on us. While the post isn’t exactly a falsehood — Frank is clearly speculating — we can do better.

Our apologies. I’ve taken down the original post.

31 Replies to “Retraction: WSF”

  1. Yes, bad assumption, lack of critical thinking on the writer’s part.

    Capacity is determined by the number of lifejackets, life boats, nearby boats to provide for rescue and assistance, and probably other criteria including crew size, and how a boat is constructed.

    What doesn’t drive rider capacity on the ferries is their weight, or the weight of vehicles.

    Ferries this summer are certainly having their issues, but this kind of thinking suggests perhaps we’re getting what we deserve.

    1. Depends. The Evergreen State was overweight when they finished the rebuild, so they removed a lot of stuff to get it down to a more usable weight, including stuff like ceiling panels.

      I don’t know how much weight they can take before they are overweight, but apparently it could happen as there is a limit.

  2. What I’d rather you concentrate on is why the smaller ferry was on the Bremerton run at all. The WSF seems to be in crisis mode several times a year as they shuffle boats between several different routes to cover unexpected outages. They are falling behind on both the maintenance and construction of new vessels.

    1. Yes, that is the right question. The ferry system is fairly underfunded, much like the rest of our public infrastructure, schooling, etc.

      1. One word simple answer: Timmy.
        Not to mentions a State Legislature and Department of Transport stultified into thinking highways are the only modes of transport worth funding.

    2. Due to the Tacoma power failure on July 29th and the Yakima being out with drive motor replacement, it set off a perfect storm. Without the Tacoma being available, Bainbridge only has two Mark IIs and the Edmonds Kingston have the Jumbos (i.e. Walla Walla and Spokane). Three Super Class (Hyak, Kaleetan, and Elwha) are busy in the San Juans for the summer tourist season. Port Townsend has their own small boats. Mukilteo-Clinton is already overloaded (even with the new Tokitae)

      A lot of shifting would be required to have a larger vessel down at Bremerton but it does make me wonder if they shifted the Cathlamet back to Mukilteo-Clinton and the Tokitae to Bremerton if that would work well.

      1. The only crews trained to operate the Tokitae in service are at Mukilteo/Clinton, so it is currently almost impossible to have it serve another run, such as Bremerton (in WSF, the deck/navigation crews stay with the route while the engine room crews move with the boat, except fill-in crew members of course). I imagine WSF will get busy training crews from other routes on the new boat when they get a chance and have some available crew time, but the peak summer season isn’t a good time; they can’t always find enough crew members to run scheduled service as it is.

        In theory they could trade a Super class, probably Kaleetan, down to Bremerton from the San Juans in exchange for Cathlamet, but this would have a severe impact on the San Juans which are entirely dependent on ferries for access. To get to/from Bremerton you can drive around through the Tacoma Narrows.

      2. The crews will go wherever the boat goes. Crews are not assigned to a particular port. The State doesn’t pay travel to get to port either. So if you live in Seattle but are assigned to a boat that works from Anacortes, its up to you to get there.

      3. (Different Frank here)…

        @Becky yes that’s true but it’s important to note Bremerton has the highest percentage of walk-on (transit) passengers of any run in the WSF system at 60%.

        Also – together with BI there are well over 4 Million walk-on (transit) trips a year on the two ferry runs servicing Seattle. (About a third more than Sounder commuter rail). So I agree with other posters that it’s good to see WSF discussed on here as transit.

    3. Technically the boat where the overload happened wasn’t a “smaller ferry” for route.

      During the summer the Bremerton/Seattle run is assigned one 124-car/1200-passenger vessel and one 188-car/2000-passenger vessel.

      The Cathlamet is a 124-car/1200-passenger vessel the other vessel is the Sealth which is a 90-car/1200-passenger vessel.

      The problem is that with three ships out of service (Tacoma, Yakima & Kitsap) there’s nothing bigger available.

      It would be nice if WSF could get the funding to build one more Jumbo Mark II so the Edmonds-Kingston run can have two equal sized ships and there is more flexibility if one of the Jumbo Mark II’s goes out of service.

      1. They really need at least 3 more Jumbo Mark II’s to be all honest. One for a reserve, one for the Kingston, one for Bremerton. They also should jump on 4 more of the 144-car ferries to start getting ahead of fleet replacement.

      2. Maybe instead of more Jumbo Mark II’s we actually need more walk-on capacity, though.

        Also, wasn’t there a Seahawks thing Friday night? I don’t think it really makes sense to plan the whole system for the capacity needed only in the season after we win a super bowl and only a few days a year. We’d have a lot of empty boat space MOST of the time.

        (That said, we totally need more reliability in the ferry system.)

      3. The state is probably not gonna get any more jumbo type vessels. They are too big and too much at stake. Instead will likely go for more 144s so they aren’t so dependent on a particular boat and can better adjust service for demand (do we really need two jumbo mk ii boats midday Monday through Thursday??).

  3. Please have more posts re: ferries, and the state of WSF. Thanks to all who posted on the prev. article.

  4. Good job, STB. Responsible journalism doesn’t have to be perfect journalism, but it does have to recognize and correct it’s errors. I applaud the fact that you did so, quickly, and unflinchingly.

  5. Hey, if they only took up one car space to add another lifeboat and more life vests…

    (kidding -I’ll bet it’s crew limited. There’s certainly enough room above deck for more equipment)

  6. Seattle Transit Blog is kinder than the Coast Guard will be. Departing overloaded is a pretty serious offense, I think.

  7. How can they load that many passengers without some one noticing? That kinda seems like the WSF employes do not pay attention to passenger loads on boats when it close to capacity.

    1. Bremerton doesn’t have ticket sales or turnstiles. You pay on the westbound trip. It isn’t like downtown Seattle where there are several people monitoring the turnstiles and people tap their ORCA card and ticket barcodes are read by the turnstile.

      1. That kinda makes no sense in BC if the ferries are free we still have people watching the loads just in case in get fill up.

      2. According to the story I read, they had people with handheld counters to count the number of walk-ons. Their mistake is that they thought the boat had a higer capacity. The captain didn’t receive the information about the load until they were away from the dock.

  8. Thanks for admitting the mistake and being transparent. I appreciate that, and it takes guts.

    I would love to see a study about what it would take to increase walk-on capacity for the ferries. As this instance and the Bainbridge commute fiasco a few weeks ago shows, sometimes there are crunch crowds of walk-ons, and a ship that big SHOULD be ready to legally and safely handle extra walk-ons. I mean, if they can engineer a ship to carry a bunch of cars, surely they can figure out how to safely carry more people.

    But the limiting factors are probably more complex than I could guess, which is why a study would be interesting to see. What kind of investment would it take to get there?

    1. Do we need another study? We spend an awful amount of money on “studies”.

      The “normal” ferry was out of commission. A “replacement” ferry was used an was expected to handle the the traffic.

      …but to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a study for additional passenger capacity on the Bainbridge Island ferry is silly.

      Should an emergency take place on the boat requiring evacuation, the ferry would only have sufficient life preservers and space on evacuation craft for 1200 people, not the nearly 1700 people it was carrying. If there had been a marine emergency requiring evacuation, 500 people would have been floating in the water without life preservers. …and WSF (via the taxpayers …aka…you and I) would be paying the medical bills of those suffering from hypothermia of being in the chilly Puget Sound waters.

      Study all you want. If the boat is certified to carry only so many passengers via the USCG, you shall not exceed that….much like you shall not exceed the maximum occupancy of a venue as fines can be levied by fire marshalls.

      1. If it’s just life vests and inflatable boats, then we should add more. That’s a very easy fix. But I think Tom’s saying that he doesn’t know exactly what the limitation is, and it’s clear that news sources don’t either. So I read “study” = “find out”. I’ll bet we’re really limited by the number of crew, which is a more expensive fix than some rubber equipment. Whether it’s worth the price of one more crew member is something worth figuring out, whether it’s an official “study” or just WSF publishing their opinion.

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