Online ferry reservations working well, state says
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
George Capacci listens to Brian Churchwell explain the lessons learned from the rollout of the new ferry reservations system at a meeting in Port Townsend.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Initial glitches in the “Save A Spot” reservation system for the Port Townsend-Coupeville route have been overcome, and the process has provided the state ferries system with data about how to implement reservations on other routes, the program manager said.

“Overall, people have been very happy with the reservation system,” Brian Churchwell, program manager with Washington State Ferries, said Wednesday.

“We had less time for training and outreach than we would have liked, but this was offset by putting people on each boat to answer questions.”

Churchwell spoke at the Cotton Building in Port Townsend at a meeting of the Vehicle Reservation System partnership, which included ferry officials and Port Townsend and Coupeville residents.

The Web-based reservation system went live in June on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.

The new reservation system also covered the route between Anacortes and Sidney, B.C., and business customers — such as commercial trucks and buses — on San Juan Island routes, which include Orcas, Shaw, Lopez and Friday Harbor.

The system upgraded vehicle reservation options by allowing users to reserve sailings six months in advance, insread of only one month.

The state ferries system planned to evaluate reservation operations on the intitial routes and eventually expand to other routes in the next few years.

Churchwell said that 14,143 new reservations were made on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route, with 12,978 of those redeemed.

Half of the vehicle spots on the 64-car vessels are in the reservation system.

Churchwell said the optimum reservation percentage is 70 percent, but the transaction time at the toll booths is still longer than what the ferry system would like.

“It's still too slow,” he said.

“If we took a higher percentage of reservations, then the processing time would drag things out and there is a chance the boat wouldn't be able to sail on time.”

Churchwell said there was no timetable for the increase of reservation percentage.

The report presented on Wednesday said that the next reservation rollout should be preceded by more testing, training and customer education and should not occur during the summer months.

Outreach to commercial customers was not adequate to prepare them for the changes, the report added.

While most customers have positive comments about the reservation system, there has been some criticism about reservations refunds, Churchwell said.

Cancellations are accepted up to 24 hours prior to sailing, or up to two hours prior if the ship is sold out.

Heather Rogers, who facilitated the meeting, said that the 24-hour policy was “very generous,” noting that some ferry systems require that reservations be cancelled one week ahead of time.

Assistant Transportation Secretary David Moseley said the policy will not change.

“We have found that when people don't have a financial commitment, they will make multiple reservations,” he said.

“That is a critical change we made so we can reduce the number of no-shows.”

The system uses three types of accounts.

The executive account for commercial riders requires an active Wave2Go business account with the state ferries system.

The premier account, available for Port Townsend-Coupeville reservations, requires an active ReValue vehicle multi-ride card for the route, with the customer storing credit-card billing information in the reservations account.

The universal account requires only an email address and a password.

Another change on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route was to add later weekend sailings so passengers could spend more time at night in either Port Townsend or Coupeville.

This change was made without a budget increase by cancelling midday sailings and having the second shift report later.

Moseley said the 10 p.m. sailing out of Port Townsend and the 10:40 p.m. sailing out of Coupeville have not had as many riders as hoped.

The late sailing averaged only 14 cars and 18 walk-ons per trip.

“On one occasion it was half filled, and on another it was almost half,” Moseley said.

“There has been very light traffic, but we are still watching to see what happens this weekend which we think will have a lot of activity.”

Moseley called the later sailings “an experiment” and said there would be no decision made until after the end of the summer sailing schedule in October.

More information about Save A Spot features and policies is available at http://tinyurl.com/7c4hahb.



Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 26. 2012 5:54PM
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