Fix ferry system, not break it further

Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Alaska Marine Highway System really presents some challenges. For those of us who have followed and worked for the system since 1963, the present situation is very disappointing. The presence and answers of staff before the Alaska Legislature were ill-prepared, inadequate and embarrassing for all.

The idea of taking out one of the Bellingham sailings makes no sense. If it was traveling with 60 or 70 percent capacity - leave it on the line and get closer to 100. Also, revisiting Prince Rupert with more sailings does not make any sense either. The terminal is inadequate, and with the new passport requirements, traffic will be discouraged.

Contrary to the present deputy commissioner's comments, the Department of Transportation cannot generate income if the ship is tied up to the dock. Run the ships on a regular schedule so that the travelers and general public will have something to depend upon.

How did the Greyhound or Trailways folks make it years ago? They kept the buses running.

More runs with the faster Fairweather can well handle the Lynn Canal traffic. More sailings across the Gulf of Alaska with the Kennicott also make a lot of sense.

So the department should adopt a page from previous administrations. "Keep the ships running" as long as possible and on a regular basis so the department will, surprise, "build up a traveling public."

Also, the marketing of the marine highway system is inadequate. Drop some of the fares to a reasonable rate and ask the Legislature for the necessary subsidy to keep running. Remember, the legislators said, "Set up the system," and then "ask us to fund it."

So the department should fix the system, not break it any further. And the department should move the headquarters back to Juneau - it can have a small engineering staff in Ketchikan to handle the dry-dock function.

Allan MacKinnon

Employment services with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development


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