Time for a ferry system review

Accountability and truth telling — virtues in polite society — extend to government. Or so hope the taxpayers.

Preventable design headaches (with “preventable” double-underlined) are dampening reception of Washington’s newest ferry, the 144-car Tokitae, which began the Mukilteo-Clinton run Monday. Tokitae is a Coast Salish greeting meaning “nice day, pretty colors,” not be confused with a bastardization, “nice day, watch the damn ramps.”

On Tuesday, a minor hydraulic leak sidelined the Tokitae’s first round trip of the day. It was a manageable setback. But what about the undercarriage scraping of vehicle with low clearances, a problem flagged by Reps. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, months ago? Smith and Seaquist report that some of these cars get bellied as they reach the upper parking deck.

“We were simply misled. If the proper analysis had been done, this would never have happened,” Smith told The Herald.

Deck hands can navigate the loading and unloading of cars to determine which vehicles might have trouble, according to the interim ferries’ chief, Capt. George Capacci. While it’s not a public safety concern — Washington ferries have a stellar track record — it is emblematic of a culture of arrogance, if not incompetence, among WSF’s upper management.

Zero will change until there’s a comprehensive review and ferry muckamucks are held accountable (that includes giving some the heave-ho).

Regarding the Tokitae’s design, Capacci told The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield, “I do not think it’s a fatal flaw. I think it’s one of those grooming issues you deal with when you bring a new vessel into service.”

When did “grooming” migrate from the vet’s office to bureaucratic lingo? After getting elbowed, WSF put in a change order to create a smoother ramp on the two remaining Olympic-class boats under construction.

We’ve seen this movie before. A couple years ago, Smith demanded action on the WSF’s new 64-car vessels, which leaned when empty. After the state poured tons of ballast to steady the boats, fuel use dropped significantly. Smith and Seaquist deserve an award for their bird-dogging.

They also deserve action on their June 27 letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, requesting the appointment of a review panel to noodle WSF operations and labor management and present its recommendations to the new ferry director.

The behavior of upper management at the WSF is not acceptable, Smith said. Amen to that.

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