Ferry Tales: Viral Loading

My commentary, more often, is more critical than complementary. This is a bit of both.

It is not unusual for me to criticize Skagit County’s lack of empathy toward Guemes residents and ferry riders needs.

Do we need a new ferry? Do we need to have the first or one of the first electric vehicle ferries? At what cost? Do we need scheduling changes? Fare increases? Dates of annual haul out. Haul out in Summer? The list is always a long contentious one.

Occasionally, the Guemes Ferry is off schedule. Might be a med run, waiting for an ambulance. The crew could have a problem loading because of oversized vehicles and space available on deck. Perhaps Bob (the mechanic) is checking out a strange sound or smell in one of the engines. A vehicle may have a dead battery. Tanker traffic could cause the ferry to be a few minutes late. All minor annoyances, under present circumstances.

Our ferry crew almost always has a smile for riders, even in a windy downpour with rain dripping from their noses. They punch cards, make change, sell tickets, distribute dog biscuits, park cars to make the most efficient use of deck space, and wave as people and vehicles disembark. I have mentioned only some of the responsibilities that often times are taken for granted. We typically don't see that they always clean, disinfect the restrooms and terminal building and the passenger cabin onboard. Yes, all of these chores are part of the job description. Now, of course, they face a daily risk of contracting a highly contagious Covid-19. They are exposed to many of us daily, we are exposed to only one of them at a time.

Stating the obvious is sometimes necessary to remind us that we are not an island.

The San Juan County Council has asked all visitors and non-essential workers to postpone their travel, prohibiting all non-essential travel to the islands at this time. The “stay at home” order issued by Governor Inslee has brought many new faces on Guemes, and its beaches and mountain trails. Many are fleeing the city to their second (or third) homes here. Sunny days, warm weather, and a free ferry is so tempting to many that they ignore the Governor’s order. Should Skagit County issue an order like the one San Juan County has put in place? Contact your County, if you want your voice heard.

People are not getting out of their cars. Walk-on passenger numbers have virtually vanished, this in spite of the sunny days and warmer weather, when many of us chat with fellow passengers. For almost a month fares have not been collected. This will mean not reaching the revenue goal for 2020. This probably means even higher fare increases than the 15% increase Public Works has already requested to start as early as October of this year.

The Commissioners asked that written comments with subject line “Draft 2020 Ferry Fare Revenue Target Report” be sent to ferrycomments@co.skagit.wa.us by 4 pm, Wednesday, April 22. Since we are all “staying at home” there is no excuse for any of us not to comment. This affects us all.

Covid-19 created a new normal.  No one is unaffected. Guemes ferry crew has been exceptionally unified and supportive of the needs of Guemes Ferry riders.

Thank you all!

-Commentary by MJ Andrak

Tags: ferry