Ferry Taku sidelined for summer travel AMHS's summer schedule to see little change otherwise despite budget cuts

It’s been a concern since budget talks began: the Alaska Marine Highway System’s summer ferry service will remain as scheduled — with the exception of the MV Taku.

That ferry won’t be returning until October as maintenance to other vessels has delayed its annual overhaul, according to Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. The MV Taku was originally slated to begin sailing again in July.

With the Taku out, sailings to and from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, will be cut from four to two trips a week. Those include stops in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg and Sitka.

Chamber of Commerce Manager Cindi Lagoudakis has already talked to travelers who had to pay to get on another vessel because of a cancellation out of Prince Rupert.

AMHS reservations staff are contacting affected MV Taku passengers now to try and rebook them on other vessels.

Lagoudakis said those who planned to attend particular events may have to find alternate routes of travel so they don’t miss them. Some may not come at all, she added, which has an impact on local economies.

“Any impact on the ferry schedule is a negative,” she said, not just to visitors, but locals who use the system to travel for reasons such as medical trips or family visits.

“We pay to get on our highway,” she added, while paved highways are subsidized.

Other AMHS ferries will sail with minimal or no changes to the published summer schedule as Governor Bill Walker restored funding to AMHS’s 2016 operating budget by allocating $5.5 million of unused 2015 fuel trigger funds.

“The additional funding allows AMHS to honor its previously booked reservations to Alaskans, visitors and businesses,” said ADOT&PF Deputy Commissioner Michael Neussl in a statement. “The department apologizes for any inconvenience the uncertainty in the AMHS budget and the resulting schedule changes may have caused for passengers who have planned travel aboard state ferries this summer.”

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) said the AMHS ferry system has already lost credibility, though, with budget cuts and cancellations.

Travel agents, people in the lower 48 and internationally, are now hesitant to do vacation packages, he added.

“You don’t cancel reservations at that scope and scale without losing huge amounts of credibility,” he said.

Kreiss-Tomkins noted that he feels AMHS’s cuts were “over the top.”

Many other legislators have said the ferry system is just too expensive.

Neussl said this winter’s schedule “will likely be different than year’s past” with the state’s current budget deficit.

A draft winter schedule will be released for public review and comment this summer after the marine highway’s operating budget has been finalized.

The ferry schedule is available online at http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs


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