Ferry schedule raises several questions

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2008

As a Juneau resident, I am concerned that the proposed Alaska Marine Highway System ferry schedule for the summer of 2008 actually reduces service to communities south of Juneau. The proposed winter 2008-09 schedule is also of concern.

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I recently reviewed the draft operating plan for 2008-09 and compared it to the operating plan for 2007-08. Last summer's schedule had two vessels on the Bellingham run (Columbia on Fridays and Malaspina on Tuesdays) and two on the Prince Rupert run (Taku and Matanuska). However, the 2008-09 plan would move the Malaspina to the north Lynn Canal route, leaving only three mainline vessels operating south of Juneau. I guess I would like someone to explain the reasoning for this proposal, since I think vessels such as the Fairweather are more suited to this route; the Malaspina as a larger vessel is more suited to routes like the Bellingham route. In fact, I believe the Fairweather worked quite well on the Lynn Canal route in terms of frequency of service on that route.

I also recall when the Malaspina was moved back to mainline service in 2003. I think that vessel works better on the Bellingham route in terms of capacity meeting demand out of Bellingham. In essence, moving the Malaspina off the Bellingham route removes 499 passenger spaces, 88 vehicle spaces, and 73 cabins per week from that route, leaving the Columbia to handle that fairly high-density, revenue-generating route alone.

Also of concern is running the Columbia during the winter and laying up the Malaspina for most of the winter. I understand that the Columbia ran on the Bellingham route during the winter a couple of years ago - please let me know how successful that was. Part of my concern here is the cost of operating the Columbia during the off season, versus the Malaspina. (A couple of ferry engineers had told me once that the Malaspina burns 32,000 gallons of fuel per week on the Bellingham route, while vessels like the Kennicott and Columbia burn closer to 80,000 gallons of fuel per week per vessel - more than twice as much.)

My recommendation would be to continue operating the Malaspina on the Bellingham route all the way through to March 2009, thus giving all Southeast ports a similar level of service to last year, and possibly have a vessel like the Taku or Matanuska turn around at Ketchikan once a week and Prince Rupert once a week, allowing three trips per week in Lynn Canal by that ship.

Sean C. McDermott


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