3.1.e.2: Control the percent of ferry vessel systems that are past due for replacement from increasing over 10% by 2020

Data source: Washington State Department of Transportation

The chart above shows the percent of ferry vessel systems that are past due for replacement in relation to the target of 10%.

Why is this a priority?

WSDOT Ferries serve as a critical link to communitiesseparated by water or longer driving distance. WSDOT’s ferry fleet carried 10.6million vehicles and 24.5 million ferry riders in calendar year 2017. WSDOTFerries is the third largest transit system in Washington following King CountyMetro and Sound Transit. WSDOT operates 20 terminals on 10 routes, with a fleetof 22 auto-passenger ferries at the end of FY 2017. Maintaining a functioningferry system that is in good condition is essential to the efficient movementof goods and people in Washington. In addition, maintaining ferry vessel andterminal systems in good condition is important for maximizing on-timeperformance and trip reliability, which are essential to maintaining ridershiplevels. A vessel is “on-time” if it leaves the terminal no later than 10minutes after the scheduled departure time. Trip reliability is the ratio ofactual sailings compared to the number of scheduled sailings.

How are we doing?

The percentage of ferry vessel systems needing replacement increased from 10.9% to 13.1% between FY 2016 and FY 2017. This is trending further away from the goal of no more than 10% of vessel systems past due by2020.

WSDOT operates the largest ferry system in the United States. In FY2017, on-time performance for the system was 93.4% and reliability was 99.4%, missing 975 trips out of 162,722 total scheduled sailings.

There are a number of challenges facing the WSDOT Ferry System that threaten sustained system reliability which include a budget thatdoes not match service level expectations as well as challenges maintaining and preserving an aging fleet.

New vessels: WSDOT has introduced six new vessels into the fleet since 2010. Three Kwa-diTabil Class ferries are in service. Three of the four new Olympic Class ferries are complete; the fourth - M/V Suquamish - is scheduled for delivery in summer 2018. However, WSDOT must keep building new ferries to keep up with its aging fleet. The average age of the fleet is 30.5 years. This is down from 35 in 2010, and will lower to 28 when the fourth Olympic Class ferry is delivered and M/V Hyak is retired. Seven of the 22 vessels are between 40 and 60 years old.These older ferries are approaching the end of their service lives and must be replaced with newer vessels in the coming years. The four vessels in the Super Class reached 50 years old in 2017, yet there is only funding to replace one of these vessels, the M/V Hyak. WSDOT is working with the Governor's Office and the Legislature to fund construction of new vessels. The inability to preserve the fleet sufficiently over the past decade has created a high risk that the remaining three Super Class vessels will not reach their targeted service life of 60 years. Funding will need to be allocated to preserve the vessels to avoid severe service impacts.

Preservation and maintenance of existing vessels: WSDOT's Ferry System fleet operates 365 days a year. These vessels often operate more than 20 hours per day, leaving very little time for maintenance. The crews perform certain maintenance activities while under way. However, a majority of the maintenance activities need to occur while the vessel is not in operation.

An additional challenge is, for the past 10 years, the vessel preservation program has been unable to spend all of the available funding provided for vessel preservation, estimated at 50% of the need. This is primarily due to lack of adequate maintenance relief vessel capacity. Having relief vessel capacity to allow for planned maintenance and preservation as well as unscheduled vessel breakdowns is critical to sustaining service reliability. WSDOT's short-term strategy for filling this need is to retain an aging vessel–M/V Tillikum–that was scheduled to be decommissioned. The legislature has funded the continued operation of this vessel through 2017-2019biennium. WSF will seek to operate M/V Tillikum for an additional two years,but the vessel is not considered viable beyond 2021. In addition, the legislature has funded continued operation of the M/V Hyak beyond its scheduled decommissioning date through June of 2019 to support pending maintenance on two Olympic Class vessels. A long-term solution–a new vessel–is needed to sustain current service levels beyond 2021.

Another factor is lack of industrial capacity in Puget Sound. Over the past year, progress has been made in increasing regional dry-dock capacity. Vigor Shipyards in Seattle recently purchased a new dry dock capable of servicing WSF’s largest vessels. This is in addition to their other large dock that is leased from the US Navy. Nevertheless, shortage of shipyard capacity in the region remains a concern. The threshold requirement for state public works contractors to have a state-approved apprentice program is scheduled to be reduced from $3 million to $2 million in 2020, which will likely reduce the number of eligible shipyards available to support WSF vessels.

Until these issues can be mitigated and additional preservation funding, relief vessel capacity and industrial capacity is provided:

  • It is unlikely that preservation of the vessels can be achieved at the needed levels
  • The preservation backlog will continue to grow
  • Individual vessel reliability will continue to degrade, and
  • The 60-year expected life cycle of vessels will not be achieved.

This will result in an increase in the number of ferry systems that are past due for replacement.

What are we working on?

Without additional preservation funding, relief vesselcapacity and industrial capacity, WSDOT is using the following strategies tocontrol the percent of vessel systems that need to be replaced:

Maintain vessel systems: Focus available resources on vessel systems designated to maintain vessel reliability and apply cost benefit analysis based on the Life Cycle Cost Model to determine how long other systems should be operated beyond their life cycles.

Efficient, effectiveuse of resources: Integrate capital program preservation with operatingprogram maintenance planning and contracting to achieve the most effective andefficient use of resources.

Use flexible planningto achieve goals: WSDOT aims to minimize loss of preservation andmaintenance opportunities by maintaining flexible project planning andexecution that facilitates adjusting the biennial preservation and maintenancework plans to react to changes in vessel and shipyard availability.

Keep policy makers inthe loop: Inform policy makers about the strategic resource situation byapplying the Life Cycle Cost Model as part of an updated Asset Managementprogram to establish preservation performance objectives and program delivery.

Implement projects funded through the Connecting Washington package: During the 2015 session,the Legislature passed the Connecting Washington funding package, providing approximately $619 million to help meet some of the ferry system's most urgent needs. Connecting Washington fills critical funding gaps, allowing WSDOT to move forward with major projects such as constructing new terminals at Colman Dock and Mukilteo and building the fourth Olympic Class ferry vessel.

For additional information about ferry terminal and vessel conditions, see WSDOT's quarterly accountability report, the Gray Notebook 68, pp. 33-34 at


Learn more about WSDOT Ferries Division at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/.

Reported by: Washington State Department of Transportation