To the AMHS, the Marine Advisory Board, and the Southeast Conference:
It is inconceivable that Alaska loses its ferry service. Lives have been built, communities and businesses and populations have grown, economies have been stimulated, construction has been enabled, visitors have gained access, and relationships have been fostered between town residents because of the state ferry system. Nothing can replace this traffic and exchange of goods, services, and community interactions. The ferry availability positively affects the entire state’s social and economic structure and the benefits extend far beyond state boundaries.
Like all highways, the ferry system has required state and federal subsidy for maintenance and survival. I don't live in Southcentral Alaska, but I don't begrudge the funds needed to support the Parks Highway, for example; the population majority in that area doesn’t have to shoulder full cost of that road and should likewise respect the importance of marine highways to Alaskan coastal communities and the need to support them. The marine highway links to the Alcan Highway from Haines and Skagway are critical. When I lived in Juneau, we took the ferry to Haines or Skagway to be able to drive to see family in Anchorage and Fairbanks or attend work-related meetings.
Regarding the Operating Plan: overall, there’s more blue & green color indicating some kind of OUT-OF-SERVICE status than there is yellow & orange color indicating vessel time IN-SERVICE. This is very disturbing. It’s unclear what the 2 new ships, HUB & TAZ, are doing. I can’t find a definition for “CIP,” but from the MAL schedule it appears to be the "Federal Project "(whatever THAT is).
First & foremost, "essential service" is service that exists. Different communities have different needs for "essential service" and it changes seasonally. Pelican's needs are not the same as Kodiak's or Juneau's. Overall, "essential service" would be a core minimum of reliability and would be at least weekly for all communities in summer, more for the larger community hubs, and would be reduced to just several days a month in winter when local people tend to travel less and it’s off-season for tourists. Residents and tourists will adapt to a reliable and consistent minimum service level, but a service gap of 6 weeks such as planned for winter in Haines is not acceptable. Such small towns without jet airports, even though we have a highway out, need the ferry consistently in winter because weather can prevent air & highway travel. We can plan IF we know what to expect, but we CAN’T PLAN if there is no service and virtually no alternative!
I support creation of a public corporation to manage an overhauled state ferry system. A FORWARD-THINKING, simpler, consistent and reliable vessel schedule that allows for boatyard time for maintenance and emergencies would help to stabilize the system. Long-term thinking to support our communities and businesses with ferry service is critical. We need long-term thinking to budget for maintenance, unforeseen mechanical or accident-related failures, and getting functional replacement vessels. This must go beyond a single administration, and a public corporation could be an effective way to achieve it.
Regarding revenues, a fee could be charged for transporting goods via the baggage carts. Part of the PFD earnings could be used to support ferry transportation. I'd rather support public services with the PFD than get a bigger check - my educated guess is that most PFD's don't stay in the state to benefit our economy. Passenger-only vessels could be added to the fleet: my guess is it's cheaper to get from Pelican to Juneau for business & shopping without your car, then rent one in the larger community, and just put your purchases on the ferry baggage cart when you return. Maybe a larger cart could be provided (and supported by charging a fee for its use: something like 1 parcel/suitcase free, then $5 for each bag or box thereafter) for this type of commute.
Continuing thoughts on 7-24-2019
I have just written to our Southeast Alaska Senators and Representatives about the brand-new AMHS ferry system strike debacle. The general budget situation and extended legislative sessions to address them are bad enough, but now the ferry strike is ridiculous drama almost beyond bearing. I quote myself below:
“A huge hunk of Haines has been preparing for months and setting up the last several days for the SEAK State Fair. As you know, we are SO dependent on the AMHS for this event. The SEAK State Fair is a huge highlight and economic benefit for Haines' small businesses; it's a supporter of, and annual highlight event for, regional youth 4-H and craftspeople such as quilters; it brings some of the Outside world to us in entertainers and visitors who foster exchange of ideas; it also showcases the local non-profit organizations and countless volunteers who work really hard to make the Fair a high quality, entertaining, and fun experience. Many of us spend untold hours of uncompensated time just for the joy of seeing the community come out and our extended communities reunite. And as Vice Chair of Haines Friends of Recycling and a "worker bee" who helps to make our Zero Waste fair happen (reducing the Fair's waste stream by some 90%!), the strike is devastating news. I personally have 4 sets of friends and family coming to visit during the Fair, 3 of whom who are also making a road trip into the Interior. The Fair connects all of Southeast and brings in representation from Interior Alaska - and we need the ferry to make that happen! This is just one such event that hugely impacts our communities - the Haines Brewfest, the Eaglefest, the International Kluane Bike Relay, Sitka Whalefest, the Skagway Klondike Road Relay, Petersburg's Little Norway, school sports: all manner of festivals and celebrations and competitions around Southeast rely on the ferry system in a similar way as the SEAK State Fair does. I'm a lifelong resident of the State of Alaska who has extensively used the ferry system for nearly 60 years: I grew up in Wrangell riding the ferries since 1963 for all manner of school events, lived in Kodiak, worked in Prince William Sound, spent a 39 year career in Juneau, and now I live in Haines. We are simply sickened by the latest AMHS system threats illustrated by the need for the Inland Boatmen's Union to strike because of prolonged wage issues and the current governor's draconian budget....”
Submitted: July 24, 2019
I don't know enough about the financial workings of the ferry system to offer efficiency recommendations (although new vessels, while expensive initially to build, would likely be easier to maintain and operate more efficiently over the long run). It does seem obvious that the ferry system will always need a level of subsidy and that it will never make a profit within its own operations. However, I would like to offer an observation; the ferry system drives economic activity by providing shipping and transportation services that otherwise would not be possible. This economic activity transfers some revenue back to the State. This return revenue and growth benefit should be considered when focusing on how much of a subsidy the ferry system should be given and what level of help rural communities should get from the State in regard to transportation infrastructure. In simpler terms, the operating loss may not be as big as it first seems after considering hidden benefits and invisible revenue flows from economic activity made possible only by ferry transportation.
For example, in my home town of Pelican we are closest to the best fishing grounds. We are however, farthest away from the transportation hub. Years ago our salmon processing plant went bankrupt and the town has been shrinking ever since. The fish are still here and we have a few fledgeling custom fish processing companies trying to make a go of it. It turns out that the State Ferry is currently the one and only economical way to transport fish from Pelican to market. The community of Pelican desperately needs ferry service at this crucial time as we move in to a new future.
Is it worth it to subsidize transportation in order to reap the benefits of economic growth? We have our natural resources and could bring a lot of fish to market, It would be a shame to not get as much worth out of them as possible. The continuation of ferry service would allow that.
When looking at the future, it seems that "public private" infrastructure is the way the wind is blowing. While states budgets are not looking so good all around the country the federal government is making it clear they will be ready and willing to invest in America through infrastructure stimulus and will keep interest rates low. Changing the structure of the Ferry System from a line agency of the State of Alaska to a Public Corporation may allow easier access to federal funding?Submitted: April 03, 2019
We live in Ketchikan and have an RV and go to Prince Rupert to go south for our medical and a little vacation. I am very outraged about the suggestion the AMH abandon Prince Rupert as a port! The Bellingham run is outrageously overpriced and is unaffordable for most residents! We are presently south and I have reservations to go from Rupert to Ketchikan, our truck & trailer is 57' overall, have a cat, and need a stateroom, cost is $694. To go from Bellingham to Ketchikan the cost would be $6315 plus meals! They want almost $600 just for a spartan bunk bed stateroom! I don't need a ferry to Bellingham, and I don't think most residents of southeast Alaska do, WE NEED THE FERRY TO PRINCE RUPERT AND AFFORDABLE RATES, AND RELIABLE SERVICE, NEEDS TO BE TWICE A WEEK MINIMUM!Submitted: March 29, 2019
The AMHS is vital piece of Alaska’s infrastructure. It is shocking that public testimony is needed to establish that. Our economy depends on the ability for people and businesses to be able to reliably transport goods and the people needed to provide services across our great land. In addition our schools and communities need the AMHS for transportation to stay connected with our state. Community events, such as Gold Medal Basketball, the Klondike road race, The Alaska Folk Festival to name a few are gatherings that not only fun, they create a sense of community across the distances inherent in a state as vast as ours. It is shot sighted and detrimental to the businesses, the state economy and the social fabric of our state to even contemplate cuts such as The governor has suggested.Submitted: March 14, 2019
The MHS is necessary for Alaska. It is integral to our villages and the way of life many of us live here to pursue. There are many ways to economize and expand service. Is this a part in a maneuver to get voter approval on "Alaska is open for business" proposals where the long view is ignored?Submitted: March 12, 2019
Redo labor contracts. No additional ferries for special activities, IF that results in additional operating costs! The activities need to plan according to regular ferry schedules. Essential services are 2 north and 2 south per week in SE comm with only one being Bellingham run. Should have had an income tax all along, it existed when I came to Alaska. The Legislatures have squandered away a kings ransom in addition to what small amount went into perm fund for residents. State could have saved some for future also. When you rob APF we will still face budget shortfalls as in National Dems and Social Security surplus gone!Submitted: March 12, 2019
I feel lowering prices and using social media for free advertising to increase ridership would help.Submitted: March 12, 2019
Some young people on POW and are willing to contribute their pin up with clothing portraits posing on the ferries, including POW inter-island ferry towards making a promotional calendar for the ferries. If every photo included the spectacular scenery of remote ports, coupled with a list of local needs for service, these might sell well to tourists. We certainly have some good looking youth in Alaska who want to stay in their home communities, but this requires transportation of goods and travel, esp for childbirth, work related medical care etc. when the planes can't fly.Submitted: March 09, 2019
Renew the fleet with standardized ships and allow operations to be guided by personnel with expertise in the maritime industry, uninhibited by political dictates and pressure.
A great deal of our costs and problems now stem from an aging fleet subject to very costly repairs and upgrades. If new ships are introduced into service, reliability and efficiency would increase 100 fold. With Federal funding assistance Alaska could revive AMHS and provide service for the next 50 years with new ships that could operate far more efficiently than our aging fleet.
Standardized ships would prove extremely efficient and cost effective in both the construction phase (one design for several ships), standardized maintenance system (parts and systems all the same throughout the fleet) and operationally efficient since each ship could be assigned to any route and port in the system, excluding SW and the Aleutian Chain where an elevator system is necessary.
Submitted: March 03, 2019
The FB site presenting the ferry services completely neglects to note the importance of the Prince Rupert to Ketchikan route. The Prince Rupert connection allows countless Alaskans who are First Nations/Native Alaskans, namely Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit, to travel from Haida Gwaii to connect on a regular basis with family on POW, Met and Ketchikan area. It is also the Gateway to Alaska for tourists bringing up motor homes and campers who are Americans from the lower 48 and Canadians, all adding directly to local economics. Schools and sporting events depend upon this international route - as in the annual All Native Basketball Tournament and various recreational activities to Canadian activities. For over 50 years Alaskan families who cannot afford to visit relatives or ship supplies by a monopoly airline, have made use of the Prince Rupert to Ketchikan route, driving all the way down to the other border. The Prince Rupert to KTN route is the Other Alaskan Highway. The one I drive every day doesn't even connect to the part of Alaska where my property and home is in southeast AK. Maybe it is time to give POW back to Canada and let BC provide full transportation as they have recently been increasing their ferry service to remote coastal communities. Operations: sorry but discontinue free and reduced rides for family member; Consider what is feasible to apply from BC Ferries to AK Marine H; Funding: Congress to be lobbied for increased Federal Highway funds, and more focus on tourism as a healthier alternative for the environment than the big cruise ships (which should be banned not increased).Submitted: March 03, 2019