On January 5th, Washington State Ferries began to implement the new statewide reservation system. As the ferry system plays a vital role in island life, this change influences residents all throughout the San Juan Islands. As Reservation Committee member Wally Gudgell explains, the ferry reservation system was established to benefit WSF customers, ferry terminal communities, and the WSF management team. WSF hopes to provide more predictability and flexibility for ferry riders, allowing customers to spend less time in the terminals. This will cut down on traffic and crowing in terminal areas, and reduce stress for ferry customers, as being able to reserve a spot on the ferry guarantees a space on the boat. Customers will also be able to cancel or change a vehicle reservation up until 5 p.m. on the day before the scheduled travel date. It is also hoped that the reservations system will reduce wait times and minimize the need for costly terminal expansion projects.
In October 2012, a group was formed in the San Juans to discuss the reservation system and work through initial community misgivings regarding the system. The group included representatives from each of the islands, a mix of women and men, representatives from commercial and tourism industries, and frequent ferry riders and residents. The Reservation Committee worked to assess the local community situation, including state terminals, and local ridership patterns. They then used this information to develop principles for a reservation system specific to the San Juan Islands. While in this stage, the group discussed anticipated service disruptions and worked out errors. The group eventually arrived at a decision for a design that would work for the community and established policies to govern the reservation system. Lastly, the Reservation Committee worked to develop a plan to promote the important planning tool called Save a Spot. Save a Spot allows riders to make reservations, and plan their travels around current terminal conditions and schedules.
Gudgell discloses that the main factor that played into the decision to move to a reservation system was “a demand from the state legislature. The state announced that it would not fund any new ferries for the San Juans in the near future, and that the state ferry system had to learn to be more efficient.” The reservation committee hopes that any bugs in the reservation system can be fixed with new dynamic software. “We realize that once the empirical data starts coming in, changes will be necessary, and they will be made,” Gudgell relays. As a matter of fact, numerous new updates and changes for the ferries are already being planned out and implemented. One such example is the updated website, which now allows viewers to see the availability for the tiers on the boats, and the availability for the standby drive-on passengers. This change will help passengers know what to expect, and allow them to plan accordingly. In a closing statement, Gudgell notes that “The State Department of Transportations Ferry Reservation group has been very interested in making the system as good as it can be.”