I think there are a couple of areas where the Alaska Marine Highway can improve to increase ridership and revenues. First, it needs to be remembered that the backbone of any system like this is the people who live in the communities that are served by each vessel. Revenue from tourism is essential, but in order to be sustainable the local communities must be willing and be able to afford to ride the ferry often.
It used to be that when we traveled on the Marine Highway system, the driver of any vehicle went for free. At the time, it was about $350 to take my truck and use the ferry for a quick trip to Anchorage now and then. Now in the winter, the driver goes for 50% off, but that still raises the price to about $450. In the summer time when there is no driver discount, the price raises again to about $550. Add on one other family member and the price is now about $750. This has decreased our ridership on the marine highway by about 2/3 since the change went into effect, and I don't think that will change unless the rates go down. The money we used to save by riding the marine highway and buying groceries and other supplies in Anchorage has become negligible when you consider the added costs of traveling. It is hardly(or in most cases not) worth the hassle of spending the weekend traveling. The clear beneficiary has been the airlines. It has become more convenient and cost effective to travel by plane and rent a car. The price is now comparable and the schedule is much more convenient.
Speaking of schedules, I know the Alaska Marine Highway accepts public comment into their schedules, and they are really terrific at accommodating our school activities, but sometimes their schedules are real head scratchers. I recently rode the ferry from Cordova to Whittier and the starting time of the trip went from 5:00am until 5:30am. Not that I care about the later start time, but this schedule does not seem to take into account the schedule of the Whittier tunnel.
The 5:00am departure time puts the ferry into Whittier at 11:45am which is 15 minutes before the Tunnel opens. On this schedule, a person can hit the Whittier dock and head straight through the tunnel and on to Anchorage. It makes appointments easy to make and gets you into Anchorage generally around 1:00.
The 5:30am start time means you now arrive in Whittier at 12:15pm, narrowly missing the tunnel opening(12:00 to 12:15) and now you have to wait in Whittier until 1:00 when the tunnel opens again. But just when you thought you would get to go through the tunnel at 1:00, you realize that the train is also waiting to go through the tunnel now at 1:00 and despite all of the announcements that the tunnel would open at 1:00, now you are delayed so the train can go through. We were finally allowed to go through the tunnel at about 1:20 which put us in Anchorage at 2:30 instead of 1:00, all because they moved the start time up 1/2 hour. Maybe it would make sense to move it forward an hour, but 1/2 hour makes no sense at all.
It would also be nice if the two state owned entities in the tunnel and the ferry could learn to communicate with each other a little better. In the winter when there is little or no traffic(through the tunnel), if the ferry gets into Whittier late, I am not sure why the tunnel can't just open to allow the people who get off the ferry to go through.
Just my two cents.Submitted: June 02, 2018
Be able to select your cabin online just like you select your seat on an airplane.Submitted: May 25, 2018
I have some suggestions:
- free wi-fi on board ferries so people can do work
- a mileage program similar to AK Air, including a club 49 option with discounts for Alaskans
- remodel the ferries to be more modern and aesthetically pleasing
- offer discounts for purchase of package deals (e.g. if you purchase stateroom, car, and fare together get a 10% discount)
- offer tours with classes by experts on subjects such as writing, knitting, birding, etc. (the cruise ships do this...)
- need to sell AMHS memorabilia on ferries and online
- bring back the gift shops and bars!
All of these things would increase ridership and reduce operating cost per rider.Submitted: May 25, 2018
Work a deal with community businesses to get product/merchandise onboard the ferry in Bellingham and Prince Rupert for them to sell their wares in their local communities. Prices should be comparable to freight rates or even a few pennies per pound cheaper.
Fred Meyer for example could provide their own "Van" loaded with product in Bellingham, and AMHS could charge accordingly for that van to transport it to Juneau.
Maybe this could be done seasonally only, October to May to compensate for the low passenger rates during the off season.
Just a thought. Feel free to add to or subtract from as you see fit.
Thanks for reading.
Submitted: May 15, 2018
Start charging for addition baggage/carry on. I recently watched a woman and her 6 children travel from Petersburg to Juneau on a Medicaid pass. While in Juneau she shopped at a local Fred Meyer and returned to Petersburg Several days later with no less than a dozen 50 pound boxes of groceries.
The airlines didn't charge for luggage for years while fighting bankruptcy the entire time. They reformed themselves a number of years ago. Part of that reform was to start charging fees for luggage. Maybe give customers one bag for free then $50 for each additional bag?
Just a thought. Add or delete information as you need to.
Thanks for reading.
MikeSubmitted: May 15, 2018
I feel that a great income producing mechanism would be to legalize a casino (ON THE FERRY SYSTEM ONLY), (maybe something along the lines of slots only for example) on a small part of the ship. To be accessed only while ship is underway. (similar to the paddle boat casino's in Mississippi)
The income generated is to ONLY be used inside the ferry system, completely independent of state funds.
This could potentially add to the already high tourism currently a lifeline to many Alaska communities if rules were placed to force the patron off for X number of days. Example: Joe buys a ferry ticket in Bellingham, gambles on the boat to anywhere the ferry stops, then must exit the boat until that boat returns on its south bound trip).
Joe not only contributes to the ferry system but for that 2-3 days he waits in Petersburg for example he contributes to the economy there as well. Its a win-win for Alaska!
Just a thought, build on it anyway you please.
Thanks for reading.
MikeSubmitted: May 15, 2018
Alaska state ferries have a great passenger safety record. The employees respect the passengers. I feel safe and welcome. I like that I am in Alaska when I board the boat. The security is good without being overwhelming or out of proportion like the airlines.They keep to a tight schedule.I can check on my pets or cargo while I travel.I liken my trips to a cruse.Submitted: May 12, 2018
I made some of these same suggestions to people involved with the AMHS in 2006 and they were rejected/disregarded then, and it's worse now!
"AMHS Issues: Things to consider
Cost the same to run the ferries empty as loaded. These costs are already paid by the residents of Alaska, so they shouldn’t have to pay excessive fares to be able to use the system. The fares could be reduced to 30 percent of the present rates (Jan. 06), and the overall revenue would rise, because the cost of use now is prohibitive to most of the residents.
Commercial and non resident should continue to pay the full rate.
I have been told of a program called “Elderhost” that allows persons to travel the system in the winter for free or a very small payment. They are provided staterooms and meals. These people are not even residents of Alaska, and sometimes not even residents of the USA! I ask, “why should we subsidize non-residents to use the system our own residents can’t afford to use”? I don’t know a lot about the particulars of this program, but this seems ridiculous! Any Alaskan resident should receive the same discount and benefits as the Elderhost program.
Not only the cost of passenger fares reduced, but cost of vehicle fares and staterooms reduced to qualified residents. The present passenger fare, Ketchikan to Bellingham is $231 and takes about 39 hours. This doesn’t include meals, (5 or 6 meals) $50 minimum, or the cost of a stateroom to sleep, $220. This makes the total cost about $500.
This cost is outrageous considering you can fly to Seattle in 2 hours for $435 full cost, and $230 supersaver with about 2 months notice."
Submitted: May 03, 2018
Also, call it the Alaska Coastal cities conference, we need to include All using this system.Submitted: May 03, 2018
THE AMHS HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A TOURIST CRUISE LINE, WHICH TAKES TOURISTS INTO THE INTERIOR BYPASSING SOUTHEAST ALASKA..
The FARES/RATES are far too high, this has made the AMHS unaffordable to the people you need riding it in higher numbers to increase the revenue. This is especially apparent October to April when the tourists stop riding. The tourists who are only using it once in a lifetime to visit Alaska have different priorities than the Alaskan residents seeking to travel, and when the prices are so high those that would use it, instead fly and rent vehicles, it's faster and doesn't really cost more! I have been using the AMHS since it started, at that time it was reasonable to use. We (wife and I) have used it significantly more the last twenty years, mostly go to Prince Rupert then drive down to lower 48. Sometimes I would prefer to use the Bellingham run, but the costs are so much more! The cost of taking the ferry to Bellingham is at least double, the cost of going to Rupert and driving, including food, lodging, and food and drink the entire trip!
The last three years I have been bringing a 36' RV with us, and the cost to get from Seattle to home with the RV and using Prince Rupert is about $1000 total funds, including fuel and food & drink. For just the two of us, our pickup, one way to Bellingham, with a stateroom and food & drink is $2000 or more, and if I include the RV, it's another $2780! I can ship the RV on Alaska Marine Lines barge for $2500, that is cheaper than the HIGHWAY, and they make a PROFIT on it! Also a two bunk spartan stateroom from Bellingham cost $344 for two nights, and almost $600 for a 4 bunk, (needed so senior citizens don't have to climb into a top bunk and risk falling!) One could stay at the Hilton for two nights cheaper than that with a lot more amenities, king bed, tv, internet, ect..it's outrageous to see Alaskan's sleeping in the lounge areas when plenty of staterooms are available, because they can't afford $350-$600 dollars, and we are already paying the full costs whether we collect one penny back in revenue. Staterooms should be 30% of summer rates in the winter!
This cost is especially outrageous when the ferries run with a lot of space available, because of the high costs, not because Alaskan's aren't traveling, and Alaskan's are already fully paying these costs whether empty or not and whether we get one nickel back in "revenue"! It is outrageous and ridiculous to see these ships running almost empty while the Alaskans who would like to travel can't afford to! If you think the lack of ridership in the winter is not cost related, well then start running them for FREE in the winter, like the highways in the interior, and we'll see if they run empty or not, and I'll predict the AMHS will have to put other ships on the runs to keep up with the demand! So it's not that there aren't people who want to travel, it's severely restricted because of the cost!
The stopping of the Prince Rupert run this winter and spring caused a lot of problems for the residents of Alaska. You need reliable service, and it wasn't! I don't like only a once a week schedule in the winter. If something happens on the road and you miss the ferry, you are then stuck in Prince Rupert for another week! I also feel the arrival and depart times for Prince Rupert are not convenient, we have to line up at 4 am, or get into Rupert at midnight or 2 am, and can't drive anywhere until daylight. This is one reason I support the smaller vessels, day boats that travel normal hours and don't need staterooms. The ferries need to fully unload in every port and those going elsewhere need to catch the next ferry to their destination, this would save a lot of time loading and unloading, where now the crew has to figure who is going where and it takes a lot of time in EVERY port to do this, instead they could just have the cars drive on like they do on every other ferry I ever rode on! Time is money and it doesn't make sense to me to have a ship setting there for 3-4 hours in port to load and unload, with many of the crew on overtime.
I also saw a comment where the person said to stop the Prince Rupert run! I find this outrageous, especially after you read the comment and it appears to be made by an employee, who doesn't live in Alaska, (complained about the two tier wage setup, where non residents get paid less) and who most likely doesn't even ride the system other than to deadhead to his change port. I think this comment should be disregarded! Prince Rupert is only 90 miles from Ketchikan, the most southern port in Alaska, and Bellingham is around 700 miles. A ship can make six runs to Prince Rupert for the cost of one trip to Bellingham. I don't need an extremely costly road to Bellingham, when there is an affordable highway only 90 miles away.
BRING BACK THE BARS, as a local of Ketchikan said in a letter, the AMHS is the ONLY entity selling liquor in Alaska that couldn't make a profit! I call bull on this claim. The bars always had people in them spending money, and were one of the only areas adults could get away from the screaming kids when the ferries were running full.
I also don't think we need a reservation system, or need to have travel agents handling reservations, or to be paying them to make reservations. Why should anyone have reservations on a highway? Go to the terminal and pick a number. Like you do almost everywhere in the lower 48, pick a number and when your number gets called drive on the ferry! I also think that the customs people need to fly to Prince Rupert the afternoon before the ferry is scheduled to arrive, and then interview the travelers and allow them into the parking area and lined up early, so after the ferry unloads, those lined up could immediately load the vessel and it would be able to depart saving many hours. What is the total cost the ferry, $10k/hour, saving that kind of money every trip adds up. Also have heard many times that slowing the vessels down saves a lot of fuel, especially needed on the Bellingham run, could lower the fuel costs a very significant amount. My father and uncle both worked and retired from the AMHS and they said the ferry to Seattle and then Bellingham was being run too fast because of the non Alaska residents of the crew who wanted to get home faster..
There are many things that the AMHS could do to reduce their costs, but I feel the present management is very resistant to changing anything except they want to hire non Alaskan crew members, and seem to prefer them to Alaska residents, so they can be paid less money. They even have non AMERICAN citizens working on these ships! I find this to be outrageous when qualified Alaskan's could be filling these jobs and helping ALASKA'S economy! I feel the entire management of the AMHS needs to be replaced, from the top down. They have no business sense, and for years have allowed these excessive fares to drive off the Alaskans who would utilize the system. If you had even a teaspoon of business sense, and saw that your store was almost empty certain times, wouldn't you think those times would be good times to have a sale to get people in the door and get a revenue stream coming in?? The only time recently we rode the Columbia was to Bellingham, when the AMHS had a reduced rate if you purchased round tickets, I think it was 15% off. Loved the ferry and trip, but it was still too expensive when compared to the cost of going to Rupert and driving. Unaffordable to most Alaskan's with kids and families.. Unfortunately, the AMHS has priced the very Alaskan's it needs to survive out of being able to use it!
70 year resident born here and live my entire life in Alaska.
Submitted: May 03, 2018