Ferry staff rebooks thousands of trips

State takes down printed schedule from its Web site

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2006

The state ferry reservation system is booking summer travel in Southeast Alaska, but due to some major schedule changes planned for the LeConte, Taku and Fairweather, the printed schedule for the entire summer has been offline for days.

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Ferry reservations staffers have been calling thousands of people to rebook the trips that are affected by the schedule changes, said Barbara Fairbanks, traffic manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

"Because there are so many changes, it is taking a while. We have to move people from one ship to another," Fairbanks said.

It's an exasperating time of year for a major ferry schedule overhaul, said Juneau Assembly member Bob Doll, a former state ferry chief.

Many travelers are trying to establish their summer trips, he said.

Yet it does take time to update reservations anytime there's a major alteration, such as the LeConte running aground in 2004.

"I understand because I've seen it before," Doll said.

The reservation staff has been working on rebooking travelers for weeks and is almost through the process, said Mary Siroky, a special assistant for the ferry system.

The printed schedule will not be posted back online until all the trips have been rebooked.

"You have to close the sailing, and get all of the people off of it. ... That's how we manage the computer database," Siroky said.

In the meantime, ferry system officials said that anyone who needs help getting a new booking can call the reservation staff. That includes booking trips on the new routes announced last month.

Among the changes planned this summer, the state wants to turn the LeConte into a day boat, adding new trips to some villages and canceling some stops elsewhere.

The Taku also will change its current schedule, to take over for the LeConte's stops in Kake.

The Fairweather is scheduled to return to service, following major repair, on July 1. The fast ferry's schedule is changing to allow a Saturday trip to Sitka, instead of Haines and Skagway.

Usually, the ferry system doesn't have three boats dealing with schedule changes at the same time, Fairbanks said.

"We've had to do more than normal," she said.

The makeover of the LeConte's operating schedule would not occur until June. It is still subject to continued negotiation with unions.

The state created the new schedule after receiving a directive from the U.S. Coast Guard that required the state to amend the LeConte's schedule. The Coast Guard said that the LeConte's crew members were not getting enough rest.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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