I keep hearing the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry service compared to other ferry services around the country. One comparison was that other ferry systems operate at a 30 percent subsidy rate while the AMHS operates at a 50 percent subsidy. This does sound like the AMHS is doing something wrong. If other operations can operate at such a lower rate maybe we should emulate their systems.
I wonder though, are apples being compared to apples? If they are, then things should be looked at and we should learn from others success. I very much doubt that is the case.
I don't know the exact numbers, but I'd guess that 80 to 90 percent of those other ferries run only between two ports, are tied up for 12 hours at night, have no overnight accommodations, no dining facilities, no bar and no observation decks. Most of the passengers on those ferries sit in their cars for the commute so they don't need any amenities. Those ferries are there for only one reason: to transport people and their vehicles from point A to point B. They are not there as representatives of their state. They are not there to promote tourism. They are not there to show their customers some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife on the planet. They are not there to be lifelines to communities on their routes. If you've ever ridden on the Washington state ferries you know that they are bare-bones, sandwich, candy, pop and coffee machine vending, get-you-there-and-back workhorses. To compare them to our ferries is at best ignorant and at worse dishonest.
If you want to compare the AMHS ferries to anything compare them to roads. How many roads in Alaska make a profit? How much do the roads of Alaska get subsidized? I would really like to see an honest comparison between the AMHS ferries and the state road system. Mile for mile (not even considering that the federal government has designated the Alaska Marine Highway a National Scenic Byway), I bet the AMHS system is more profitable than any road in Alaska. Remember it goes from Bellingham, Wash., to Dutch Harbor. It serves 31 communities and for 26 of those towns it is the only way to get you and your car there at the same time. It's a unique and amazing system, and to compare it to any other system is really comparing apples to oranges.