UW News

December 17, 2018

UW Evans School study of Fauntleroy ferry service proposes improvements to technology, engagement

UW News

Suggested upgrades to technology, training and communication — and funding them appropriately — lie at the heart of recommendations to the state from researchers at the University of Washington after a months-long study of service at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal in West Seattle.

They also suggest: Ramp up the ferries’ social media presence and other public engagement efforts, use “Good to Go!” tolling technology and expand mobile transactions to improve ticketing and loading processes.

The 2018 Washington State Legislature commissioned two faculty members with the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance to conduct an independent study of ticketing and loading procedures at the popular ferry dock and suggest ways to improve terminal operations.

Evans School professor Alison Cullen is principal investigator for the study, working with associate professor Stephen Page and four graduate student research assistants. The team sent its completed study to the Washington State Department of Transportation on Dec. 14, outlining short- and longer-term options for improving service at the terminal.

The Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, on what is called the Triangle Route, is where travelers and commuters take ferries from West Seattle to both Vashon Island and the small Kitsap Peninsula town of Southworth. The Fauntleroy dock, one of the state’s oldest and smallest in operation, is too small to hold enough vehicles to fill even the smallest of three ferries that currently serve the route, so additional cars wait for ferries in a holding lane that runs north up Fauntleroy Way.

The terminal has been the cause of substantial commuter frustrations in recent years, with some sailings grappling with a trade-off between being on time and filling boats.

While the dock is scheduled for a rebuild starting in 2025, ferry riders and community members see the status quo as “undesirable and unsustainable” in the short run, the team writes.

In conducting their research, the Evans School team visited the docks and interviewed ferry staff and community members, and attended meetings of the Washington State Ferries’ Triangle Task Force on updating service at the terminal.

“Combining systematic analysis of available empirical data with field observations and interviews, (this) report examines the challenges and possibilities for improving ticketing and loading at Fauntleroy in the short run, while suggesting implications for long-run improvements as well,” they write. But they caution, “Easy fixes … are elusive.”

Their report recommends improvements in technology, training, public engagement and data collection and analysis, while stressing that “successful and sustainable” change will require both additional resources and planning.

In the near term: The team recommends that the Legislature provide Washington State Ferries sufficient funding to “experiment with combinations of additional staff, upgrades to Wi-Fi connectivity and mobile devices to enable ticket sales and validation in the holding lane.”

Other recommendations include creating a smartphone app commuters could use to get real-time estimates of wait times for ferries. Ferry users currently can sign up for text or email notifications of estimated wait times, but, the research team notes, such estimates are often inaccurate.

“A location-driven smartphone could estimate wait times before a rider leaves her house, while she is en route to a ferry terminal, and once she is in the holding lane,” the researchers write. The app could be built to integrate with Google Maps and other travel-planning apps, “enabling riders to plan their entire trips using a single app.”

To support implementing these suggestions, the team also recommends sufficient state funding for:

  • Improvements in staff training, management and retention at Fauntleroy — including the hiring of several new staff before the next busy summer ferry season, and training staff in conflict de-escalation techniques
  • Expansion of data collection and analysis to measure the impact of ticketing and loading changes to the dock and improve the quality of information that Washington State Ferries reports to the public.

Longer-term recommendations: The team suggests that the Legislature provide funding sufficient to rebuild the Fauntleroy dock, in its planned upgrade, with the capacity to incorporate WSDOT’s “Good to Go!” tolling technology to collect fares. They recommend that the Washington State Transportation Commission support this change by factoring “Good to Go!” fare-collection capabilities into an upcoming fare-restructuring effort.

In their conclusion, the Evans School researchers state: “Despite differences of perspective and opinions among stakeholders, everyone we spoke with is dedicated to improving operations at Fauntleroy, as well as the Triangle Route more generally.

“We hope that these overall shared aims, in combination with our findings and recommendations, can help unify the Triangle Route’s stakeholders to support Washington State Ferries staff and the Legislature in developing sustainable solutions to the challenges of ticketing and loading at Fauntleroy.”The research was funded through the state supplemental transportation budget.


For more information, contact Cullen at alison@uw.edu or Page at sbp@uw.edu.