Ferry Committee Candidate Steve Orsini

LineTime posed a number of questions to Steve Orsini and John Hopkins, candidates for an open seat on the Guemes Island Ferry Committee in 2019. Steve Orsini's responses:

Please tell us about yourself.
Steve Orsini's Statement

Why do you want to serve on the Guemes Island Ferry Committee?
I have served on the Guemes island Ferry Committee (FC) for over 25 years so know the history of the island input into the ferry operations.  It is important to have this “corporate memory” represented in discussions with the County and to provide insight for those new to this island.  

What skills and experience would you bring to the committee?
I began my working career in the marine industry.  I have commercial salmon fished in Alaska.  I worked in fisheries development in the Peace Corps and then worked in the sales and delivery of large commercial fishing vessels into Alaskan Fisheries.  In 1980 I began a 30 year career with ASEA, ABB and Alstom.  For ASEA, I was in the marine division selling very large steam turbine engine, deck cranes and engine torque measuring equipment.  I had extensive training in shipboard mechanics and systems.

On what other island organizations have you served?
The Guemes Island Environmental Trust, the North Beach Community Association and the Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee.

How would you describe the point of view you might represent on the Ferry Committee?
I am very clear on the charter concept of the Ferry Committee which is that we represent the ridership in the pursuit of safe, efficient and economical ferry service to Guemes.  The Ferry Committee does not exist to represent another voice for the County in the operation and maintenance of this transportation system.

How do you see yourself representing those with whom you disagree?
As chairman of the committee, I attempt to run fair and open meetings, hearing all sides of an issue.  I also make every effort to keep a factual tone to the communications of the ferry committee to the County and to the ridership.  This is not an easy process, but the goal is to continue a service that is best for the island and its ridership taking into account a wide variety of views and issues. Over the past year, the Ferry Committee's and Islanders' involvement in Ferry policy development has greatly expanded.

In what ways would you improve communication between the Ferry? Committee and Guemes Islanders?

In the last two years, the FC has improved its publications on LineTime and My Guemes.  We continue our quarterly island-wide meetings and increased the number of meetings with Public Works at the Anacortes Library.  We need to put more effort into our web page on LineTime so that we can present issues behind the operations and maintenance of the Guemes, and the plans for the new plug-in electric vessel.

How do you see improving the role of the Ferry Committee as intermediary and advocate for ferry ridership?
The role of the Ferry Committee is only advisory but we need to improve our position with the County.  We need to research  representation examples where the citizen’s input has greater authority in dealing with transit issues.

Are you in favor of a new, larger and possibly electric ferry for Guemes Island or refitting the current vessel?
I am in favor of a new vessel for Guemes that is substantially electric in propulsion.  A larger vessel at 32 cars may be a major mistake for the County in that it will be expensive to maintain (hull, paint, zincs) while miss the mark on moving more cars per hour which is the advantage of a 26 or 28 car vessel that can load and run more frequently.  We have some service issues, like ticketing, that must be addressed before we launch a new vessel.

Are you confident that a 32 car ferry will reduce wait times, even though the County has not demonstrated or explained how they can load and unload it on the current schedule (and longer time between runs means it will carry less per hour than the current boat)?
I am not confident that a 32 car vessel is the answer.  For example, the FC has worked on ticketing for years with no change to a very archaic and costly system.  We have also lost the ability to run this vessel three times in an hour, which was standard for years.  The fact that we have seen a decline in the number of cars transported since 2007 is emblematic of system problems that building a new 32-car vessel cannot solve.

Do you support a Guemes Island-only Ferry Taxing District that would assess island property owners to pay for the new ferry?
This is a very poor idea that came out of the County’s interpretation of requirements for the CRAB funding. This is a very unfair concept that I did not nor will support at any time.

Do you support paying for a new ferry through additional surcharges or fare increases?
The ferry committee for years supported a capital improvement fund, a concept never pick-up by the County.  We now have a surcharge which is the highest in the state.  We need to have a surcharge in effect but not an additional one from that already imposed. Please tell us your vision for future Ferry service.

I would like to see a  26-28 ferry that has a proven form of electric propulsion running efficiently on a frequent, known schedule that helps keep lines to a minimum.  Keep in mind that a single vessel system is not the place to experiment with the latest technology.  Also keep in mind that when I moved to Guemes permanently in 1954, we had a 6 car ferry that was run on a flexible schedule that meet the needs of the islanders.  Not having to wait in line for a ferry when moving to an island is also an unrealistic expectation.

How do you envision the ideal Guemes Island Ferry system?
Answered above.

What issues do you see as being paramount in the next 5 years?
First and foremost, we have to get the size of this vessel right.  Now the design is for a vessel which is by capacity standards oversized for the run and will be more expensive to maintain over the next 40 years than a smaller vessel appropriate to the island requirements.  At the same time we need to develop a Level of Service for the Guemes run.  This has been a priority of the Ferry Committee for over a decad.  Normally, the Level of Service should be set before a new vessel is designed.  Thirdly, we have to establish a modern ticketing system that emphasizes the ridership ticketing themselves with a check mechanism only by the crew.  Think of how the airlines do it.

According to Skagit County's Capital Facilities Plan, one way to increase the capacity of the Guemes Island Ferry system is to "encourage car-pooling and walk-on passengers" to reduce drive-on traffic. How do you imagine encouraging walk on traffic, especially among those reluctant to get out of their cars?   

We have low hanging fruit if we can get a SKAT Transit bus that meets the ferry on the Anacortes side, on the dock, on a regular basis.  We can also strongly encourage and use a SKAT bus on the island especially in the summer.  There are some 20 AirBNB establishments on Guemes who can encourage their guests to take a bus on the island rather than bring a car or two for the weekend.  For those who want to truly address Global Warming, the idea of taking a bus is going to have to take some precedence over the convenience of the car, especially if the lines are long.

Do you walk on regularly?
Yes. I also need to ride my bike more, even in the winter.