Like most larger ferries in the Washington State Ferries fleet, the Tokitae carries cars on the main deck and on mezzanine decks on both sides, which have ramps fore and aft. Turns out that the ramps on the Tokitae, the new 144-car ferry, are steeper than the ramps on older ferries and that vehicles are scraping their bottoms while crossing the transition at the top.

Oops. And double oops because this problem was identified earlier and dismissed by WSF officials. State Rep. Norma Smith from Whidbey Island, which is served by the Tokitae, expressed concern last March about the ramps and was told that her worries were “unwarranted.” Smith told the Daily Herald  that she and Larry Seaquist, another legislator, were “simply misled. If the proper analysis had been done, this would never have happened.” The two lawmakers have also written to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee about the problem and suggested “a major overhaul of upper management in the ferries division in order to restore public trust.”

Interim state ferries director Capt. George Capacci has now asked Vigor Shipyards, the primary contractor, to change the design and construction of the ramps on the second and third new Olympic-class ferries currently in the pipeline.

Capacci also said that vessel crews can determine which vehicles might have problems with the ramps and keep them on the main deck. “I don’t think it’s a problem,” Capacci told The Herald.

Well, yes, it is a problem. This puts more pressure on the deck crews to make quick decisions about where to direct traffic, which slows down the boarding process and invites mistakes. And car drivers on the upper decks are more cautious when crossing between ramp and deck, which also disrupts traffic flow. It’s also a problem when the concerns were raised about this very issue and nothing was done about it. Parking garages routinely install rounded transitions at the tops of ramps; it’s not a difficult calculation or fabrication.

It’s also a problem because it undermines public confidence in an important transportation system that relies on public support.

I’ve ridden the Tokitae twice since it entered service, and I’ve been on a mezzanine deck both times. I didn’t scrape, but I also was driving a Ford F-150. Good thing I don’t have a Lamborghini. 

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!).