Better marketing and the return of the state ferry Columbia likely contributed to an increase in summer ridership on the Alaska Marine Highway System, the system's general manager said.
The number of passengers traveling on state ferries increased 6 percent in the summer compared to last year's season, from 170,055 people in 2001 to 179,647 in 2002, according to the AMHS. The number of vehicles carried on ferries increased by 4 percent and cabin use increased by 7 percent. The numbers run from May 1 to Aug. 31.
"It's a trend that's positive," AMHS General Manager George Capacci said. "It shows that it's growing and going in the right way. And we will continue to grow that."
Higher bookings brought a 7 percent, or $1.5 million, increase in revenue in 2002, according to the ferry system.
The totals don't include the system's Ketchikan-to-Hollis run 2001. That service was taken over by the separate Inter-Island Ferry Authority in 2002.
A focus on marketing along with the fact that the state ferry Columbia was running the entire summer likely contributed to the ridership increases, Capacci said. The ferry Columbia was off-line for a few weeks at the start of the 2001 season because of upgrades and repairs following an electrical fire in summer 2000.
The system has a $50,000 to $60,000 budget for marketing and hired a marketing manager in 2000, Capacci said.
"The marketing effort is showing some payoff," he said. "People aren't beating a path to our door. You have to market."
The ridership and revenue totals don't include a small number of handwritten tickets that will be added in later, Capacci said. The system hasn't analyzed the numbers by route, although the runs from Bellingham, Wash., and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, into the state likely contributed to the increases, he said.
The AMHS received $37 million in general fund appropriations from the state Legislature this year and expects to draw another $8 million from the separate Marine Highway Fund, a separate account supporting ferry service, Capacci said.
The Legislature added $20 million to Marine Highway Fund this year.
"If more revenue is collected, there's less of a draw on the fund," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.