Questions regarding the decrease in port departures were a topic of discussion by Petersburg City Council Monday evening. Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer addressed a letter to Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Deputy Commissioner of Marine Operations Michael Neussl asking about the reduced ferry schedule for 2013.
“Our community has seen an overall decrease in port departures by 19.5 percent since 2002 and an 18.6 percent decrease in passenger disembarkment over the same time period,” Dwyer noted. “These two facts are clearly linked, the more the AMHS reduces service to our community the fewer people use the service thereby justifying additional reductions the following year.”
Dwyer states that the City is concerned that the 2013 summer service is being reduced yet again.
“The majority of our passenger disembarkments occur during the summer and is important to our local businesses that visitors can make their way to Petersburg and spend more than a few hours here before they continue on their travels,” Dwyer noted.
The question pointed at Neussl was the specific impediments to increasing ferry service to Petersburg so a resolution can be made.
“The proposed summer 2013 schedule provides varying levels of service to Petersburg depending upon the month,” Neussl replied. “From a high of eleven ship visits per week in July and August, to a low of six or seven per week in May and September, respectively, as we ramp up and down from the summer peak traffic demands.”
Neussl also explained that AMHS provides Petersburg with a comparable level of service to other similarly situated communities.
The 2013 schedule will change first by the M/V Taku stopping service to Petersburg in September, cutting four ship visits per week. The M/V Columbia is going into a Federal Capital Improvement Project Sept. 1, 2013 and the M/V Malaspina will be replacing the Columbia on the Bellingham run.
The schedule also states that in order to have sufficient service in Northern Lynn Canal, the Taku is reassigned to provide the high volume service.
According to Neussl, the second issue is the Fast Vehicle Ferry service to Petersburg with the M/V Fairweather. This service will remain at one trip per week in 2013 just as it was in 2012.
“Ridership numbers on that run are low,” Neussl stated. “This is what led to the reduction from twice a week in 2011 to once a week now.”
Neussl hopes that the beginning operation of the North End Ferry Authority will add traffic to the Petersburg Fast Vehicle Ferry run.
Dwyer also addressed another issue concerning the M/V Kennicott, which has been bypassing Petersburg on its Bellingham to Whittier express run.
“The Kennicott is on a tight schedule that primarily supports the twice monthly Aleutian Chain runs by the M/V Tustumena,” Neussl responded. “On the alternating weeks, we run it to Bellingham to capitalize on the traffic volume there.”
Neussl also stated that the Kennicott cannot stop at every port served by the Columbia’s Bellingham run due to scheduling and the limited time available.
“As long as we have a reduced service our ridership cannot get any higher,” Council member Nancy Strand stated. “With the reduced ferry service people aren’t going to want to come to Petersburg because they will be forced to stay for at least a week.”
Council member Mark Jensen suggested writing another letter to the AMHS in order to gain more information and opening a line of communication regarding these concerns.