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52 Guidelines for Ferry Transportation Services Emergency Response The U.S. Virgin Islands experience the threat of hurricanes every season. Emergency evacua- tion plans are in place for each island should a natural disaster occur. In an emergency, there is the possibility that vessels from Saint Thomas would have to assist in evacuating Saint Croix and in doing so navigate the rough waters between the two islands. For this reason, the ferry opera- tors in the U.S. Virgin Islands use monohull vessels. Washington Island Ferry Line (Wisconsin) Quickfacts Operator Service # of # of Annual Annual Fleet Age Category Routes Vessels Passengers Vehicles (years) Washington Highway 1 5 200,000 n/a 740 Island Ferry Ferry Line Essential History Washington Island is an island located 6 miles (5.2 nautical miles) from the tip of Door County, Wisconsin. It is a popular vacation destination as well as a year-round residence for approximately 700 people. Ferry service is an integral part of island life--many of the island's daily goods arrive by boat. Supplies such as foodstuffs and heating products ensure that residents can live on the island year-round. Washington Island Ferry Line (WIFL) began service in 1940, when Arni and Carl Richter purchased two wooden ferries from an existing service that was run by Captain William Jepson and that had been in operation for 6 years. Upon acquiring United States Postal Ser- vice (USPS) contracts to deliver freight mail, what was once seasonal service transitioned to daily service to the island. Today, WIFL continues as a private ferry operation (Purinton, accessed April 1, 2010). As a family-owned and -operated business, the ferry service continues to provide a public ser- vice for both residents and visitors to the island. In addition, ferries shuttle commerce and goods between the mainland and the island. Although the ferry service is a wholly owned private entity, there are some aspects of operation that fall under government regulation and oversight. This regulation and oversight is provided mainly by the United States Coast Guard, as well as several state offices that oversee marine-based functions. Organizational Structure As a private operation, WIFL has the flexibility to modify and adjust to changing conditions, both environmental and social. The company owns all of its vessels, as well as the ramps, piers, and terminal facilities. Operational Structure System/Service Routes WIFL operates only one route between the mainland and Washington Island (see Figure 5-11 for route map). Approximately 200,000 people ride the ferry every year. The service operates 26 or 27 round trips a day during the summer, with service reduced to twice a day during the winter season due to severe weather and ice conditions. The summer months provide 75 to
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Ferry Case Studies 53 Figure 5-11. Washington Island ferry route. 80 percent of the year's business. Summer travelers are mainly tourists, in-state visitors, and day-trippers (Interview with Washington Island Ferry Line, February 4, 2010). Few commuters use the service daily, since the dock is located far from the nearest town on the mainland and schedules are not set to accommodate a typical commuter schedule. Friday and weekend trips tend to have more passengers than a typical weekday because of seasonal property owners and vacationers heading to the island for the weekend. WIFL runs special trips on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights to satisfy the demand from weekend travelers (See Table 5-14 for service schedule). Travel time on the ferry route varies by the season. During the non-winter months, the cross- ing takes approximately 30 minutes. During the winter months, the crossing time can extend to 40 to 45 minutes. Severe weather such as icy conditions can extend a one-way trip to 4 hours. In this situation, an icebreaker is required to clear a path through the ice, either with the operation's ferries that can break ice or with the assistance of the Coast Guard (Interview with Washington Island Ferry Line, February 4, 2010).
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54 Guidelines for Ferry Transportation Services Table 5-14. Washington Island Ferry Line service frequency by season. Season FrequencyTo Island FrequencyFrom Island Spring April 1, 2010May 7, 2010 Hourly Hourly May 8, 2010July 1, 2010 Hourly Hourly Summer July 2, 2010August 15, 2010 30 to 45 min 30 to 45 min Fall August 16, 2010October 24, 2010 Hourly Hourly Early Winter/Winter October 25, 2010December 5, 2010 Hourly Hourly December 6, 2010January 2, 2011 4 sailings per day 4 sailings per day January 3, 2011March 31, 2011 Two times weekly (do Two times weekly (do not sail on Wednesdays) not sail on Wednesdays) Night Trips Friday Night Trips 30 to 60 min 30 to 60 min Saturday/Sunday Trips Once nightly Once nightly Facility and Vessel Maintenance WIFL operates a fleet of four RO-RO vessels. At full capacity, the vessels can carry 149 passen- gers, 18 to 21 vehicles, or 2 fully loaded semi trucks. In age, the vessels range from 7 to 40 years old. Two boats were recently sold due to age (Interview with Washington Island Ferry Line, February 4, 2010). Vessels are replaced based on a number of factors, including capacity demand, usefulness in the fleet, cost of modification, and payback period. As a private operator, WIFL undergoes a rigorous cost-benefit exercise to determine the short- and long-term implications of new vessel purchases, including changing technologies and new potential governmental regulation requirements. The spike in fuel costs in 2008 forced WIFL to find ways to limit the financial impact of the cost increases. WIFL began implementing new fueling strategies, purchased new fueling equip- ment, changed fueling vendors, and created a reserve fund. In addition, WIFL sought to lock in fuel prices by buying a bulk of 2009's fuel in advance instead of at market rates. WIFL crew were also required to undergo spill containment training in the event of fuel leaks and reduced the amount of time spent idling. WIFL owns two docking facilities and leases two others. Wisconsin State Department of Transportation (WDOT) grants assisted in the construction of a mainland breakwall. WIFL con- ducts all of its daily maintenance needs in an onsite maintenance facility, although it does not have dry dock capability. Dry docking occurs at a facility 40 miles away. Staffing Levels WIFL is run with a staff of 12 to 14 people in the off season, with staff size expanding to 30 to 32 during the summer months. WIFL has not had difficulty recruiting crews and staff; it has more often been the case that more people are looking for marine-based work in the area than there is capacity to hire. In addition, 100 percent of the operation is island based--meaning that workers start and end their day on the island. Financial Structure Fares The fares charged by WIFL are shown in Table 5-15. Tickets can be purchased at the office and ticket booth. Tickets cannot be purchased in advance on WIFL's web site. Discounted ticket
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Ferry Case Studies 55 Table 5-15. Fare structure (round trip). Passenger Type Fare Adult $11.50 Child (611 years) $5.50 Automobile (passengers not $25.00 included) Motorcycle $15.00 Bicycle $4.00 Island resident children Free books are available for regular riders, who often have a "house" account. Island school children also ride the ferry for free. Tickets are collected during boarding by crew members. Despite the financial difficulties of recent times, WIFL did not raise its rates for the season of April 2010 to April 2011. They expect to be able to maintain rates at the same level during the year. Funding Sources As a private operator, WIFL receives no public funding for day-to-day operating costs. Door County applied for grant funding from WDOT for the construction of docks and breakwalls. Planning Issues Planning, whether short- or long-term, is critically important to the continued operations of WIFL. As a private operation, WIFL must strive continually to maintain a balance of costs and expenditures. Some short-term goals identified to maintain the balance of costs and expendi- tures include the following (Interview with Washington Island Ferry Line, February 4, 2010): · Acquire new fueling equipment/fuel truck to avoid a fuel surcharge. · Change fuel supply vendors. · Undergo spill containment training. · Create a reserve fund in case of emergencies or unexpected expenditures. · Look closely at engine manufacturers to understand optimum fuel burn rate. · Reduce idling time. · Make decisions on future engine purchases based on the ability to reduce consumption but keep horsepower. · Undergo engine repowers and resell old engines. · Purchase new engines before new EPA emission requirements take effect. Long-term goals include the following: · Improve "value added" experience for passengers. · Include more deck space for passengers to move around on new boats. · Provide more education for crew and staff, especially for information sharing. · Provide more service at a lower cost. · Balance capital costs against the benefits of operating savings and environmental compliance. · Provide shore transportation alternatives. Environmental and Regulatory Issues Keeping abreast of current environmental issues and regulations pertinent to the WIFL oper- ation is a constant effort for the staff. Certain aspects of environmental regulations, such as safety and security for vessels, which are mandated by the Coast Guard, are well known because of their relevance to day-to-day operations. Other regulations and possible future regulations related to environmental contaminants, such as air pollution, require more nuanced response because of the complex nature of environmental pollution.
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56 Guidelines for Ferry Transportation Services The state of Wisconsin does not have an independent environmental regulatory system sep- arate from the federal government, so WIFL maintains standards that meet federal requirements. WIFL is a member of the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA), a national association repre- senting the interests of owners and operators of passenger vessels, which provides a variety of services to assist in making daily operations possible. The PVA provides operators with informa- tion on environmentally related transportation issues such as emissions and energy and updates on issues expected to be important in the near future. In addition, operators have experts at their disposal through the PVA if there are any questions regarding new requirements and regulations that have been passed or implemented. This was identified as very helpful by WIFL as they do not have the capability in house to keep abreast of and understand all of the new rules and man- dates that come down from the government, often from different departments. Over the past few years, the water level in Lake Michigan has fallen drastically, enough so that WIFL needed to build a new ramp at the mainland dock as well as make modifications to the ter- minal on Washington Island. This is a concern since the drop in water level is a recent occur- rence; Lake Michigan's water level had been stable for the previous 20 to 25 years. It is not known if Lake Michigan will return to its previous water level. WIFL spent $400,000 to make improve- ments to the docks, which are owned or leased exclusively by WIFL. Unforseen expenses have a significant impact on financial stability and overall business health. Land Use Issues Due to the relatively rural location of WIFL's mainland dock, it is not expected that there will be any landside development around the ferry terminal. As the island's population is relatively stable at around 700 year-round residents, it is not expected that the island will experience a dra- matic increase in traffic. Regulatory Issues Despite being a private operation, WIFL falls under the oversight of several different state departments. The fares WIFL charges, while not needing approval by the state, must be submit- ted each year to the Wisconsin State Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, which oversees all tariffs in the state. WIFL falls under the Railroads Commission because of its role as a carrier of intrastate commerce. In addition to the tariff oversight, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) regulates all permits for dock construction and dredging. WIFL docks are required to have WDNR permits under the same rules as marinas. WIFL docks are recognized as commercial maritime facilities with a strong public interest. WDNR has repeatedly placed conditions on WIFL permits that would require unlimited public access and use. In the past, WIFL has gone to court to contest regulations required by the state as part of a permit applica- tion for dock maintenance construction; WIFL settled one case out of court and won one case. The Coast Guard plays a large role in the continued operation of WIFL. The Coast Guard must certify each ferry as well as oversee all aspects of safety while the boat is in operation. WIFL's working relationship with the Coast Guard has evolved over the last 10 years, developing into a respectful partnership. It was noted that the Coast Guard has become more customer service- oriented and more open to feedback from the operators, which has allowed the partnership to occur. A pending issue for WIFL is the upcoming Tier 2 engine standards soon to take effect. WIFL has come up with some strategies to ensure that all boats will be in compliance by the time the rule takes effect. Two of these strategies are (1) streamlining the emission systems and boat life- cycles (moving toward greater energy efficiency by reducing heat, lights, generators, and standby power) and (2) planning to repower two ferries before the new tier takes effect (Interview with Washington Island Ferry Line, February 4, 2010).