Make the ferries and their schedules more user friendly so people can book a trip that doesn't turn into a nightmare. It is currently difficult to plan a trip because of the schedules.
Because of the Rupert schedule we have had to drive via Skagway or take the plane to Seattle for our last four trips south.
Departing in Rupert at 3 or 4 AM is not an option for many including us. Sitting in the cold rain in Juneau for two hours in the middle of the night with just a few cars to board and no more early boarding has not been an improvement.
I know the Sitka route is difficult but going to and from Sitka now requires flying one way unless you stay several days. Many Sitka folks used the ferry to shop in Juneau. That no longer works for them.
Every ferry passing Petersburg and Wrangell stops there. Having traveled the inside passage since the very beginnings of the Marine Highway I see very few people board and depart there. Some trips no one got on or off. Does the ferry really need to stop every trip past these towns? Sitka, a much larger community, gets a fraction of their service and they manage.
Submitted: December 08, 2017
We ship semi-trailers full of freight to Gustavus every week of the year (we spend about $60,000/year with AMHS). We also handle the anchor lines for the arriving and departing vessels under a contract between AMHS and our company. So, since AMHS started servicing Gustavus 7 years ago, we’ve had a lot of exposure to the operating inefficiencies of the ferries. As many times as we’ve tried to bring some of these issues before the AMHS management, little has changed. And though they ask the public for input (and we provide it), the input seems to mean little.
As the current owner of several small businesses and a 25 year history of working for large corporations before that, it is obvious to me what is wrong with the ferry system and why it will always be too expensive to operate under its current structure. Here’s just a few observations. We could provide many examples:
(1) Excessive crew size. An example: We were told that the Coast Guard was requiring the doubling of the number of deckhands on the LeConte for safety purposes. But if they require this extra crew for emergencies, then rather than hiring more deckhands, why not train other staff for emergencies? It is painful to see the deckhands tripping over each other because there are simply too many of them for the limited positions on the deck.
(2) Decision making seems to be based on pull, politics or momentum rather than sound economic judgements. While we’ve fought for years to get additional voyages (the Gustavus decks are often full and turning away traffic. According to the LeConte crews, Gustavus runs more full than any other port they serve), somehow Sitka was getting the LeConte pulled off the northern panhandle to service it for weekly runs that were virtually empty. As another example: For two years we’ve asked AMHS to provide a different schedule for Gustavus (Thursday and Saturday instead of Monday and Wednesday) due to the severe constraints of servicing our robust summer hospitality business with our current schedule. Twice a year, when AMHS asked for feedback for the schedules, we provided it. Our attempt to persuade has been unsuccessful despite our belief that the economics weighed heavily in our favor. In last week’s conference call, I point-blank asked the scheduler why we were not being heard on this matter and was surprised to learn that the other communities that would also have to change to accommodate our request were more senior than Gustavus (they had been serviced longer than Gustavus) and therefore, our request could not be considered.
(3) Forfeiting high revenue full voyages for low revenue, lightly loaded voyages in response to ports asking for dedicated voyages for sports games and special meetings and events. When there was a flush budget and extra ships to handle these special events, AMHS could afford to offer this service. However, now without extra ships, not to mention the limited budget, taking scheduled voyages offline to service these special events is not only killing revenue, it’s killing the communities whose economy is based on getting timely freight transported and who are now stranded without service because their scheduled ferry was redirected to a non-essential function. The diminished schedule then creates backlogs because voyages are full for weeks afterwards. For instance, during our busiest freight season last April, Gustavus lost three scheduled voyages for three weeks in a row for these “special events”. And with only half as many voyages available for those critical three weeks, all remaining voyages were full for weeks before and weeks afterwards. Our company had 8 semi-trailers backed up in Juneau and Seattle awaiting deck space on the few remaining voyages because of this decision. AMHS schedulers did eventually allow us to load 6 semi-trailers on the Pelican run as a means of reducing our backlog. That unscheduled stop in Gustavus saved us from a major catastrophe, but the question remains, can we really afford to be making decisions for basketball teams or community events that make little sense when viewed from an economic perspective? Does it make sense to kill one community’s economy to provide a dedicated run to another community’s sporting event when those travelers could just as well travel to those sporting events by air? (that’s just what happened last April when the LeConte dropped the Gustavus voyage to travel all the way down to pick up a sports team only to learn that the team had already flown to the event by the time they got there!)
These shortcomings are common knowledge to all of us who work in the field. The crews, the customers, the business people who have first-hand experience with AMHS operations are well aware of how paralyzed and politically motivated the decision process is in upper management.
Our company has taken these matters and others all the way up to the deputy commissioner and have found similar illogical responses. What drives their decisions seem to have little to do with either the economics of the communities or the economics of the ferry system. It is not being run with an eye on the bottom line. It needs to be operated more like we in business do where every decision has financial consequences and the survival of the enterprise depends on making good, sound decisions every day.
Submitted: November 19, 2017
The ferry is a critical link to the vitality of a community. That being said, I think communities can survive with less service off season. It's nice to have the ferry come to Seldovia 3 times a week during winter, but I look at all the hands it takes to load and off load, run the ferry etc, and the loss must be huge. I suggest the system look at modifying the schedule to a realistic loads during off season. Twice a week during winter, would be more than sufficient. It is not a sustainable business model to run all winter like it is summer season. Also, on short runs, the galley open times have nothing to do with when people are on the boat. If it was a private business, they would be open when people were on the boat and hungry, not when it is easy for the staff. Last time I was on the Tusty, the galley opened up right at the end of the run, and I was the only person eating there. How much did my sandwich cost to produce?Submitted: November 14, 2017
A fellow crewmember's idea:
Turn the back window sections of the forward observation lounges into mini staterooms.
Put in divider walls to partition small areas (i.e. 2 rows of seats & 2 windows) into a
small room ....no bathroom needed....just put a bed or couch inside & a door that locks so passengers can have a little privacy and sleep better. We could build about 20 of these roomettes.....5 per back side in the back of both forward lounges.....then price them competitively so that passenger's can afford them thus increasing our revenue & creating happier passengers.
Have AMHS employees such as deck & engine department employees build these rooms so that we don't pay high prices to a contractor to erect flimsy walls w/ a door. For cheap rooms the walls don't have to be thick & sturdy. More like a privacy screen that
separates them from the masses.
Once the advertising is done, many local Alaskans may choose the ferry instead of flying when they go south.Submitted: November 09, 2017
I'm working on the Colombia as a Jr Purser on Nov 9, 2017. We have a number of empty staterooms on the leg from KTN to BELL. I have had 4 passenger requests for discounted rooms especially on the 2nd night (they would like to rent a room for only 1 of the 2 nights in order to save $. Policy & the way the CaRes system is set up only allows us to sell for the entire KTN to BELL portion. We used to offer the 2nd night for 60% of the price. As we only have 6 2berth inside rooms (the least expensive option), they are all full. Therefore, I would have to sell a 2 berth outside room for the entire cost of $344. when the passenger asks to rent for a single night. Instead of traveling with empty rooms & unhappy passengers, would you consider offering a single night price? Also, can we have a sliding scale of rooms? I read the draft statement of strategic price increases. Perhaps we can upgrade some rooms with fancier décor & charge more $. Offer room service for those rooms. And perhaps we can remodel in order to divide some rooms in half with a thin divider wall thus creating 2 inexpensive roomettes as on the Kennicott (perhaps with a shared bathroom). There are crew & retired crew on board this ship camping in the lounges due to the high prices. A discounted rate for crew & retirees (pass holders) would entice them to buy a room thus bringing in extra revenue. Of course they would only buy a room after all the passengers had a chance so they would not create a lack of rooms to rent @ full price. I am taking the ferry from Sitka to Bellingham the day after my shift ends. I purchased a room @ full price in part because I believe it reflects poorly on AMHS for the passengers to see crew camping in the lounges.Submitted: November 09, 2017
Would appreciate having the Cross Gulf resume full year service so there's always a means
to travel via the waters from lower 48 States to Anchorage area. There's such a demand
from the tourists to the military for using it ... that it leaves little availability for the local Alaskan to use it for transport. Plus, Yakutat could greatly benefit from more
frequent ferry service.
Submitted: October 30, 2017
The only way the ferry system will survive in southeast Alaska is to extend the road system and have shorter ferry rides and smaller ships. You have to go to a shuttle ferry system.Submitted: October 26, 2017
I was sorry to hear of the sustainability problems for AMHS, this summer my family visited Alaska for the first time and were very happy to get to enjoy several ferries. I also learned that the ferry system is incredibly important for people who live in different parts of Alaska where that is their only viable option for transport. I don't know much about ferry system efficiencies but I wonder if certain shorter trips could perhaps do without the food service aspect? I don't know if Alaska is interested in renewables but if somehow wind or wave energy technologies could be employed or subsidized that may be of help for fuel efficiency... and how can the 33 communities that need it be more effective in convincing the state government that it is an extremely important part of citizen livelihood? not to mention tourism... do they think it would be easy for citizens financially or otherwise to go back to boats and small aircraft? I don't have many ideas but I sincerely hope that AMHS and the citizens that depend on it will find a way to keep the boats running. best regards - A.A.Submitted: October 22, 2017
Congratulations on providing us with a memorable trip on the Kennicott and the Fairweather on 2nd and 7th September 2017. However, there is always however or a but. When trying to book passage through our local travel agent we were told the ships were old decrepid broke down regularly were rarely on schedule , etc etc . Then we would be handed another glossy from a cruise ship company. However we solved the problem by finding a Travel agent in NSW some 250 Klm away who was able to do what we wanted. The purpose of this letter is to confirm what you must be aware of, that travel agents will do most anything to sell cruise ship tickets in preference to AMH/way. Trust you will be able to address this problem. We were able to book through Macleay Valley Travel 33 Smith st Kempsey 2440 Australia WWW.macleayvalleytravel.comSubmitted: October 11, 2017
Coastal communities off the road system depend on Alaska’s Marine Highway to transport vehicles, large equipment and essential food and supplies. I am a resident of Cordova and depend on the ferry system to allow me to live in this very expensive community. The ferry allows us to go get and receive necessities such as food and medical supplies, heavy equipment and building materials. The ferry is essential to our fishing industry in the summertime, with daily loads of fish shipped out to distribution points in Southcentral Alaska in a timely manner. This stimulates a broader regional economy than just Cordova. Hindering the transport of fish will damage the income of the entire state. Having the slow Aurora this summer instead of the fast Chenega/Fairweather was detrimental to the fishing industry.
I fear that the ferry service is expected to run a profit which it can’t. We don’t expect our roads to make a profit! I honestly think there should be tolls on the roads and those profits should be shared to the AMHS. The ferry prices have gone up and up since I moved to Cordova. I used to be able to go round trip to Anchorage for about $140 with myself and 15’ car. Now a round trip over $400. So, previously where I would travel quarterly, I am now traveling once a year (if that). Who wins? Alaska Airlines, that’s who. It is cheaper to fly and rent a car than to take the ferry. But for supply trips, you can’t do that. There should be a frequent sailor’s program that gives 20% off each trip or a free ticket after 5 purchases.
Food is so essential on long trips, I go from Cordova to Whittier for 6 hours each way. When we have to go through Valdez, it is a 12 hour ferry ride! If you remove the food service, then you will have a boat load of angry people. People are used to paying $14 for a burger in Cordova. The ferry prices are considered “cheap” for us. You could slightly increase the food rates. And bring back the bars – look at those numbers closely. Was there any revenue saved by removing the staff and their wages or did we actually lose money because the bars brought in so much money? I am not an advocate for getting drunk on a boat, but I do appreciate being able to have a beer with my food.
The ferry system needs to focus on building ferries that are suited for our waters. We had the Chenega/Fairweather fast ferry in Prince William Sound. These ferries were not capable of sailing in rougher weather. Why in the world were they commissioned? So now the AMHS is drydocking indefinitely newer ferries while commissioning new ferries that probably still won’t be able to sail. And when building ferries, make it so the seats can either fully recline or the arm rests can completely be pushed out of the way so people can sleep on the chairs. It isn’t pleasant to have to spread out on the floor so you can get a couple winks shut eye after the ferry departs at 5:30am.Submitted: October 11, 2017