I find it interesting that the first bulleted question is “What can be done to generate more operating revenue while still providing affordable service?” That question is based on the assumption that the ferry is affordable, while in reality it is being priced out of existence. In September, granted last minute, end of season, you can take a cruise from Victoria to Whittier for $150 less than you can ride the ferry as a walk on passenger from Bellingham to Whittier. Where the cost of the cruise includes a room and food, the ferry does not. You can fly roundtrip from Seattle to Anchorage roundtrip and rent a car for a week for much less than the cost of taking a vehicle on the ferry from Bellingham to Whittier. Travel between Whittier and Homer costs $662 for a 16 foot vehicle with driver or you can just drive for the cost of fuel in 3 to 4 hours. If you live in Sitka and want to take your car to Juneau to make a Cosco run, the roundtrip will cost you $408, if you live in Petersburg and would like to do the same thing, expect to pay $526.
If you are wondering why ridership is down, look at the prices. I have talked to many people who have told me that they would have loved to have taken the ferry but they were unable to justify the expense. I realize that the Marine Highway is expensive to operate, but it is also important to remember that it is the only road system in the state that brings in any of its operating costs, with the exception of the Whittier tunnel (but much of the revenue brought in by the tunnel fees is from ferry passengers).
Instead of promoting ridership and the ferry experience, amenities have gone away. The idea that the bars could not bring in revenue is ludicrous. I believe it was a tactic to do away with PCN numbers and give the appearance of cutting labor costs, instead it has taken away a revenue source and has had a negative effect on passenger experience.
The Alaska Class(less) ferries will continue to take away from the ferry’s practicality and appeal. Those ferries may work alright for the Haines/Skagway/Juneau run, but the idea of those ships replacing mainliners feels like yet another way to sabotage the Marine Highway. They basically give away the revenue from rooms and food (neither of which are cheap) and the idea of operating as day ships coming from Prince Rupert will further cut ridership. If you want to get to any port other than Ketchikan you are not going to want to disembark, get a hotel room and wait for your ride to continue. It will not be worth the time or money and ridership will further decrease.
The Marine Highway is essential for many coastal communities, while it also brings travelers to the rail belt. I urge you to look harder at ways to increase ridership rather than cutting services.
Possible ideas as to how to increase ridership:
Lower prices for walk on passengers
Offer discounts for last minute bookings on under booked segments
Possibly do something like Alaska Air’s 49ers club and give various discounts to Alaskans
Submitted: September 07, 2017
I am responding to the postcard-sized request distributed on the Malaspina this summer. I am a "displaced" Alaskan, have used the ferries since the days of the old Chilkat between Juneau and Haines, and now travel by ferry once a year. These are y suggestions in response to the above questions.
It was a big mistake to shut down the bars on the ferries. Bars are big moneymakers, and they were also congenial social spaces for conversation and music. Why has the state adopted prohibition?
There is inadequate publicity about the ferries. I talk with people about the ferries frequently, and my conclusion s that most people outside don't even know that they exist, let alone that they are a good alternative to cruise ships (smaller, less expensive, friendlier, you get to meet real Alaskans, you can get on and off at different towns, you can set up your tent--these are just some of the attractions that good publicity should include. People who wouldn't go to Alaska if they thought the had no options but the cruise ships would reconsider if they knew about the ferries.
There does seem to be a need for big-time maintenance. We were on the Columbia in July 2015 when it sat in Auke Bay for three days. It was astonishing, considering the importance of the ferries to the economy, that we werewaiting for parts and personnel to be sent up from Seattle! What kind of commitment does that represent? I want to add that the personnel on the Columbia were wonderful during this delay, no complaints there.
Finally, allow me to suggest that Alaska would really benefit from restoring the income tax. Not only the ferries, but other infrastructure and programs--think about it, people--it's possible to have a fair tax that will support the things that make Alaska truly great.Submitted: September 05, 2017
I rode the Malaspina from Bellingham to Ketchikan. It was a wonderful trip, except for the food. It was abysmal. The ferry system should reconsider reopening the bar on longer trips. It could be a profit center.Submitted: August 31, 2017
A big thank you to the whole crew for a delightful trip from Bellingham to Haines. Special thanks to John Morris, part of the car deck crew. He was behind us in the grocery store line in Ketchikan and kindly offered us and our heavy bags a ride back to the Malaspina. He took us on a quick tour of the city too, showing us the beautiful totem poles. Really above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks, John. Judy Davis, her friend Lacey, and our bags of groceries!Submitted: August 29, 2017
It is so targeted to tourists that we locals are frustrated that the high costs and inability to get a summer reservation or even find a seat in the lounge when we do travel discourages locals summer vacation travel. 1)Stop telling the legislature that the fares are consistent with AK Airlines. Only true for passenger rate, and misleading as the trip to PR Rupert/Bellingham adds food and stateroom; 2)the auto fare to those ports in winter is unreasonable. Last two winter trips we took to Pr Rupert each had 3 cars on it...reduce the frequency to Bellingham and Pr Rupert in the winter. We felt money was wasted with full crews and only a handful of passengers and so few cars. We traveled south for medical treatment, but would have adjusted to the ferry schedule if it ran less often. We chose Pr Rupert over the high cost to Bellingham, risking the bad roads. (Headed to Texas.) 3)When running in the winter out of state, lower fares will increase number of passengers & autos, food and stateroom purchases...you are going anyway why not sell space at a reduced rate? 3 cars at $2K or 12 cars at $1500? 4)Winter rates for unaccompanied vehicles should match or be slightly lower than what the barge charges from Seattle. that increases revenue without the work of food/staterooms. 5)the food quality has declined year around (just returned from a summer trip using ports Skagway & Haines and Juneau; appears to be a prep/process problem over freshness. From now on, we will carry our own and heat it in the microwave instead of buying - suggest fewer menu options and better prep/payment process is needed. A huge line up with only one cook, one server, and one to collect payment...food was undercooked, then cold by the time we made it thru the line to pay. Perhaps a second line to pay for uncooked items. 6) Also, enforce the rule that CREW cannot get the best and first pickings of the specials unless they pay. Specials are the highest priced and should be left for those paying. I was second in line when cafeteria opened and the special was gone! Fed to crew, per the cook! Person in front of me and two behind me planned to buy the special. What remained was dried up and looked gross from being prepared hours before opening, and we all passed in favor of a bowl of canned chili. Food prep, delivery, and payment processes need improving which will increase purchased food/revenues. 7)UGH - the legislature! So frustrating that they don't see it as a highway vs a money producer. Other state highways do not need to produce a profit. My best suggestion is to elect new and get the old legislators out! ESSENTIAL service is at least weekly throughout the SE communities. Those are relatively short trips, but at least quality food service with a very limited menu should be offered and would increase sales. While initially I opposed the fast ferry as it isn't viable in winter, I changed my mind and another one operating in the summer would boost use by locals in the summer and potentially offer more trips. Unfortunately, while it might increase revenue, it also means a huge upfront expense when the legislators don't support what we already have. I love traveling the ferry. I worry it will go away - thanks for letting me give suggestions.Submitted: August 29, 2017
I believe the ferry to be essential for Alaskan communities,residents and tourism.
Revenue could be raised by re-opening the bars on the ferries ( could just be beer and wine and maybe one hot alcoholic drink like coffee with Bailey's or hot chocolate with whiskey to reduce cost of inventory ).The bar could also be used to offer hot drinks and cookies etc .
I am and always have been in favor of judiciously using Permanent Fund Money to support Alaskan Infrastructure including the Ferry System.
Fuel economy could be increased by reducing speed by even just 1 knot/hr and making up time by finding ways to increase docking speed or slightly reducing time in ports.
Analyzing if personnel could be reduced without compromising safety and comfort.Submitted: August 27, 2017
1)Sell advertisement on the M/V. You have a captive audience.
2)Let Alaskans have more ownership of the ferry--IE--Like the Alaska 49 Club on Alaska Airlines--As it is now, there is no way for Alaska to feel special about the ferry system.
3)Create a loyalty program--for frequent users--
4)Play more movies---it should be constant--
Submitted: August 24, 2017
I've been saying for years we need forward thinking and if we had employed just that, we would be well on our way to major cost savings by having switched to flex fuels as in LNG or CNG fuels combined with diesel in whatever (if any) ratio required.
We're swimming in cheap natural gas, yet somehow insist on being extorted by traditional and high-cost fuel suppliers to run ALL state equipment fleets. Hellooo!
Just look at Norway which has converted their coastal merchant marine fleets to natural gas AND electrical on shorter runs.
Where is the leadership? Where is the captain and crew, the foresight and dedication to advance our antiquated thinking and infrastructure into the 21st century now that nearly 1/5 of it is gone?Submitted: August 23, 2017
My partner and I recently enjoyed an amazing visit to your state that would not have been possible without the AMHS. I am writing this comment to share with you that we had an exceptional experience with the crew aboard the LeConte. All staff we encountered from the purser, vehicle loading staff, kitchen staff and the captain provided us with exceptional service and went out of their way to make our trip more enjoyable as kayakers who were en-route to Gustavus. Thank you so much AMHS and the staff of the LeConte: we will be back again and hope that our friends and family will enjoy the same service in the years to come!Submitted: August 20, 2017
Some suggestions would be to charge non Alaskan residents more for the use of your ferry system. People will pay for it to visit your beautiful state!
As much as I have enjoyed all the meals aboard the Laconte I would suggest closing the meal prep facilities and replace it with self serve options and if it would not cost much more, use the space for seats.
Essential to me would be to set up basic access and egress to islands on at least a bi-weekly basis.
Submitted: August 20, 2017