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July 30, 2014 at 3:26 PM

Fumbled information made ferry delays worse, left riders fuming

An apparent lapse in communication within Washington State Ferries about ferry capacity made passenger delays even worse Tuesday after the breakdown of the M/V Tacoma, near Bainbridge Island.

Only one boat remained on the Bainbridge-Seattle route, the Walla Walla.

The Coast Guard gave permission Tuesday for the Walla Walla to carry 1,200 people between Bainbridge and Seattle, according to Capt. John Dwyer, chief of marine inspection.  That number is based on the life-raft capacity of that boat plus potential emergency assistance from the Sealth, which was nearby on the Bremerton-Seattle route.

Despite Coast Guard approval to carry more passengers, the Walla Walla carried only 600 people all afternoon and evening, according to WSF director Capt. George Capacci and numerous frustrated passengers, who tell The Seattle Times their delays reached three hours or more.

Asked why the ferry didn’t load 1,200 people, Capacci said this afternoon: “Somehow that information didn’t get communicated to the captain of the Walla Walla fast enough, soon enough, and to the dispatch.”  He said he didn’t have further details.

He said this is the first time the ferry system has been down by two giant Jumbo Mark II boats at the same time — the Wenatchee is being repaired in British Columbia until late Thursday night, Capacci said, and he hopes it will return Friday.

In addition, just before 3 p.m. today the new Tokitae, serving Mukilteo-Clinton, went out of service, Ferries staff tweeted. It returned to duty around 4 p.m.

So the number of idle vessels stands at four, including the Yakima, which is being overhauled, and the Kittitas, which is being painted. Capacci brought the M/V Evergreen State out of retirement to provide relief, but that was before the Tacoma stalled. Capt. Ty Anderson safely brought it to a stop, by dropping anchor in calm waters several hundred feet from Bainbridge, and the Tacoma was later brought to the terminal by a pair of tugboats.

Today, the Edmonds-Kingston customers have waited about two hours midday, because one of that run’s two boats was diverted to shore up the Bainbridge line.  For Thursday afternoon, Capacci said he plans to put the Chelan on the Edmonds-Kingston line by suspending service on the international route from Anacortes to Sidney, B.C.

While crowds waited for the Walla Walla on Tuesday, ferry staff were loading only 300 people on the car deck and 300 walk-ons above.

“It was very upsetting for people who got on the boats, to see the boats were only half full,” said Judy Kennedy of Pouslbo. Kennedy said she waited three hours in line at Colman Dock, without a chance to use the restroom, until nearly 6:55 p.m.

“The strict crew members in the terminal did the best they could to keep order and except for a very few line cutters, most people were being very good sports about the terrible conditions – standing only, no bathroom accessibility, no water, no free vouchers given to any of us, and very poor communication,” Kennedy said by e-mail. “The ferry system needs to be better prepared for such emergencies and needs to communicate with the passengers. We were literally held back by yellow tape into holding areas.”

Capacci said Washington state has the safest ferry system, and he is generally satisfied with how the staff performed Tuesday. “I get it. I apologize to our employees who had to put up with that huge crowd, and to the passengers who were inconvenienced,” he said.

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: Capt. George Capacci, ferries, Washington State Ferries

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