Wasting money at Washington State Ferries

As a resident of Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, I have many opportunities to observe the operations of Washington State Ferries. On one hand, I appreciate what they do for me, which is to shuttle me and my car (and occasionally my motorcycle) safely between Clinton and Mukilteo. They also run pretty much on time. Often, however, the boats are full and the waiting times are long, especially during the summer.

On the other hand, what really drives me crazy is the money the state agency wastes. A recent series of reports on Seattle’s KING television called “Waste on the Water” provides many painful examples of mismanagement and even malfeasance at WSF. KING reporters uncovered numerous examples of time-sheet abuses, institutionalized overtime and lucrative perks that have cost the state millions of dollars.

For example, some ferry workers are paid for travel to and from terminals if it’s considered part of a “special project.” According to news reports, one deckhand was paid nearly $73,000 last year just for travel. That was $13,000 more than his salary.

And, according to KING TV, “A select group of employees with the title of staff chief engineers … routinely see their salaries balloon with out-of-control, self-assigned overtime. Some of the staff chief engineers, approximately 12 of 21 men in these highly regarded positions, have collected salaries between 25 percent and 105 percent above their base salaries year after year.”

Meanwhile, the ferry system is constantly begging the state Legislature for more money to build and operate boats. WSF was also scheduled to raise fares again this summer. This fare increase, however, has been put on hold in the aftermath of the KING TV reports as the state’s Transportation Commission voted unanimously to delay fare “adjustments” until “various operational reviews are completed.”

Does this mean I won’t have to pay a little something extra to help pay for some deckhand’s travel?

Gee, thanks.

About the author

Bruce Buls

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).

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