On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom
Wow! What a guy: Robin Taylor, the new head of the ferry system is unafraid to express his opinion and to stand up for what he believes. The ferry system really needs a strong hand.
"We've lost about 30 percent of the Alaskan passengers in the last few years by providing unreliable service," he says.
The record speaks for itself. An article in the Dec. 19 issue of the Empire states, "Alaska's fast ferry Fairweather is out of commission again after high seas damaged the ship Thursday while it was returning to Juneau from Haines. There were no injuries but the Fairweather's cowling, a protective component between the ship's two hulls designed to deflect water from the front, was bent inward and punctured by the force of heavy waves crashing into the vessel."
In the Feb. 23 issue the Empire repeated what Taylor had said in 2000 that "fast ferries are a cruel joke." He warned that the ferries would not run during bad weather and would carry less freight.
In addition to poor service, what made the introduction of fast ferries so damaging to the well-being of the system was the plan to sell off some of the reliable work horses like the Taku and the LeConte or Aurora. Today, because of scheduling called for by these earlier proposals, the Taku is sitting idle at Ward's Cove in Ketchikan.
But Taylor stopped the selling of these valuable ships.
His vision for the system is to bring back dependable travel. He says, "The bottom line should be a core of service in the wintertime, that can be expanded in the summer.
"In the past few years, we've done the opposite," he claims, "and have emphasized the summer business, neglecting the wintertime when so many Alaskans need a safe and sure means of travel."
Taylor would like to see the Taku on a permanent daily run from Juneau up Lynn Canal, and he wants to get the ship back into service at least by September.
Taylor has a history of support for transportation in Southeast Alaska. He provided the first appropriation of $50,000 to get the Inter-Island Ferry Authority started, when he was a state senator. This system now provides daily service from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales Island. And very soon, it will launch a second ship to serve northern Prince of Wales, Petersburg and Wrangell.
Taylor is the right man at the helm. He has practical, hands-on experience, and, most importantly, he speaks up for the best interests of the traveling public.
Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.