Changes to Lummi Island Ferry Service

The Western Front Logo

By Haley McLendon

Shorter wait times may be in store for Lummi Island Ferry riders after the Whatcom County Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve an amendment that will change the way the ferry service levels are established.

The amendment to a portion of the Lummi Island Ferry Service Level of Service Action Plan  was written to define what “desired level of service” will mean for future legislation and decisions about the ferry service. As decisions are made regarding how many sailings should be made and what size to build future ferries, this newly defined standard will be the goal, Public Works Special Programs Manager Roland Middleton said.

The amendment, presented by Middleton at the meeting, changes the standard to be the number of sailings a customer has to wait through before boarding the ferry. The vote was held Jan. 24 during a planning commission meeting. Prior to the meeting, the amendment had gone through several community surveys and public meetings over the past year and a half, Middleton said.

The standard was previously based on an antiquated arbitrary number derived from an equation that considered ferry parking spaces and a past island population, Middleton said. The number derived from the old equation was 513, and the standard of service was met if that number was met or exceeded.

The level of service standard will now be achieved if commuters are able to board the ship after waiting for fewer than two sailing periods, Middleton said. Each sailing period lasts between 40 and 60 minutes.

To determine if the new standard is currently being met, the Lummi Island Ferry Advisory Commission will be conducting a series of weeklong manual counts to determine the current average wait time, he said.

Rhama Blake, a member of Lummi Island Ferry Advisory Commission, said that the council hopes to encompass seasonal changes in the number of commuters in their data. They plan to do this by gathering information over a total of four weeks throughout the year researching how many patrons board each ferry and how many cars are left waiting in line, she said.

“[The research plan] captures the whole spectrum of it, so they can make adjustments to schedules, to boat size for the replacement ferry, and so on,” Blake said.

Once the study is complete, the Advisory Commission will propose a plan for meeting the desired level of service both immediately and for years to come as the population and transportation rates are projected to rise, Middleton said.

The Lummi Action Plan also states that a new ferry will be built. The vessel will be able to hold up to 34 vehicles, nearly double the amount of vehicles the current vessel holds, Middleton said.

The new vessel will be an electric-diesel hybrid, and a six-year plan has been approved for the ferry construction, according to the document.

Modifications to the existing Lummi Island Ferry Terminal are also laid out in the plan. Improvements to vehicle and pedestrian queues will be made and restroom facilities that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act will be installed, the document stated.

Plans to construct a new ferry terminal on the island are also included in the action plan. Whatcom County and the Lummi Nation have previously agreed to work together to approve a location and secure the necessary permits, according to the document.

However, progress on the new Gooseberry Ferry Terminal has recently been stunted, due to dissents by Lummi Nation council members who entered office after plans had been approved by Whatcom County, Middleton said.

The Lummi Island Ferry departs from the island every 20 to 40 minutes starting at 5:40 a.m. during the week. Departures take place every hour on the hour starting at 7 a.m. during the weekends, according to the ferry schedule.

The Whatcom County Planning Commission is made up of nine members representing five districts. The commission is responsible for helping the Planning and Development Services Department approve the county’s Comprehensive Plan, according to its website.

The Comprehensive Plan includes regulations and standards pertaining to the growth and development of the county’s cities, such as new building regulations, according to the website.

The Planning Commission meets on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, located at 5280 Northwest Drive in Bellingham.

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