Ferry Trippin': Commuting around Puget Sound in 10 days

My job at WSDOT is to help manage projects and information for Snohomish County. But when Washington State Ferries announced a series of meetings to get public feedback on the long-range plan, I was offered the chance to work with the group who manages our highways on the water. I knew it would be interesting. I knew the ferry community was passionate about their boats. So I agreed to help set and gather public opinion for the 10-meeting series.

After listening to hundreds of people, and transcribing the 500 comments submitted during the two weeks of hearings, a few things became very clear to me. Ferries are a lifeline to these communities. These folks want to make the ferry system work better for themselves and for others. They didn’t want someone to just listen to them, they wanted change.

There were an overwhelming number of opinions and comments that came in every shape and form. Whether it was a letter, e-mail, handwritten note, DVD, pictures, articles, I took every single piece of information and made sure they were organized in a hard copy and electronic form. The executives requested this information for their meetings while revising the plan and it was important for me to make sure every voice was heard. Marta Coursey, WSF Communications Director, made notes of speakers so she could match comments and inquiries with faces from the night before. Some people believe we held the meetings because it’s a legal requirement. I would have to disagree. While it is a legal requirement, those who run the ferry system are equally passionate about hearing and doing what’s important for these riders. They, too, want to make a system that works for as many people as possible.

This is what 500+ people look like crammed into a middle school auditorium (Vashon Hearing)
Case in point: We were coming home (on the ferry) after an intense hearing on Vashon Island.
We had an unprecedented turnout of 600 people and we were all exhausted After just barely making the ferry, a coworker and I went upstairs to relax, only to find David Moseley, Assistant Secretary of Washington State Ferries, walking and talking with ferry workers on deck. He joined us as we discussed the draft plans with concerned citizens. In that moment, he proved his personable reputation to be true. He was listening, all the time, listening on this boat. How often does the head executive for the nation’s largest ferry fleet do that?
A view of the Bremerton Ferry right before a public hearing.
It was a bittersweet departure from ferries when my three-week assignment was up. I learned so much more about the life of a ferry commuter and the crews who work everyday to make the ferry system better for those who ride it.