The Washington State Department of Transportation has named Lynne Griffith, CEO of Pierce Transit, to lead the state ferries system.
Griffith begins her new role at Washington State Ferries in October, said a news release this morning from Lynn Peterson, state transportation secretary. Griffith takes the helm amid a squall of problems, such as boat breakdowns and some missed sailings due to staff shortages.
Griffith, 64, does not have a maritime background, but has more than 35 years of experience in transportation. Among the tasks at hand will be to improve reliability for customers and relations between labor and management. She is the first woman to lead the 1,700-employee ferry system, according to the state transportation department.
Interim Director Capt. George Capacci, one of two finalists in an earlier job-candidate competition for the Washington State Ferries (WSF) job in June, is expected to stay on as deputy chief for operations and construction, and presumably be the go-to person for Griffith about maritime issues.
“The key is going to be the relationship, early on, between her and George Capacci,” said Darrell Bryan, president of Victoria Clipper and a member of the transportation department’s advisory committee for the director search.
Griffth was to retire from Pierce Transit later this year. Earlier, she led C-TRAN in Vancouver, Wash.
The state attracted around 80 candidates in each of two job searches for the ferries job. Bryan said there weren’t many strong contenders — in part because pay tops at $145,000, less than most positions of comparable responsibility. “They’re not paying enough to get people in the maritime industry itself to step forward,” Bryan said. One finalist ran a tiny ferry service in New Jersey, he said, and another was a California public-works manager.
Griffith replaces David Moseley, who retired in April. In June, a letter by some ferry captains sought to keep Capacci from becoming permanent director. He withdrew. Peterson passed over the other finalist, former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg — and joked afterward she needed a “Superman” to emerge.
Collaboration is a major theme of a memo dated Wednesday from Peterson to Gov. Jay Inslee, on ways to improve and sustain service reliability in the ferry system. The memo proposes a meeting to “develop strategies to build a culture of trust respect, accountability, and collaboration between WSF management and unions,” and to solicit ideas from unions about how to prevent missed sailings. There could be more spending for deck-officer training, for adding mates, and for an additional electrician, a dispatcher, and a public-communications employee. There would be stipends for boat staff who fill gaps on Vashon Island routes, which can require extra travel time.
As for the aging fleet, Peterson suggests spending $1.7 million to keep the once-retired Evergreen State ferry running for several months, until the new Samish is completed next year, and then keep the Klahowya in service.
Many of these plans are unfunded. Peterson’s memo warns solving these problems could require ferry-service cuts, reduced highway maintenance, or new money from the Legislature. About 70 percent of ferry operations are funded by passenger fares.
Griffith has coped with austerity, having to slash Pierce Transit’s service by nearly one-third, following the recession and voters’ rejection of a tax hike. Some service has been restored as sales-tax tevenues tick up again. Last month she said the bus agency is “on the mend,” The (Tacoma) News Tribune reported.