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Ferry users survey: Give us more food and beverage choices

Washington State Ferries officials on Dec. 13 released the results of a customer service survey nearly four months after the questionnaires were first randomly distributed among passengers.

“We want to use the results to improve customer service and find ways to generate new sources of revenue for the ferry system,” said Celia Schorr, a community relations coordinator for WSF. “The traditional funding sources are just not there any more.”

Following voter approval of Initiative 695 and subsequent legislative action by the spring of 2000, the value-based motor vehicle excise tax was rolled back, effectively trimming traditional sources of ferry funding.

Since then, a state blue-ribbon commission recommended raising ferry fares annually until fare revenues covered 80 percent of systemwide operational expenses.

In 2001, fares increased on average by 20 percent, and this year they increased again on average by 12.5 percent.

With the survey, WSF officials hope to identify services and amenities passengers and regular commuters would make use of aboard the vessels or at the terminals.

It’s thought revenues generated through these services would lessen the burden on fare payers and bolster operational funding for ferries.

The survey was also designed to gauge customer service satisfaction levels.

“The results of the survey will guide us as we look for ways to compensate for the loss of traditional funding sources by cutting costs and generating new revenues,” said WSF director Mike Thorne in a prepared statement.

Nearly 7,000 passengers were surveyed between Aug. 19 and Sept. 20. The survey was conducted by Bellevue-based Northwest Research Group.

Amenities

The most popular amenities among passengers, according to the eight-page survey, revolved around food service such as food courts and beverages, including espresso and alcohol, as well as reading materials, including newsstands and bookstores.

The survey further found the expansion of ferry-based amenities is more logical on routes with longer traveling times, such as those from Bremerton, and tourist routes, such as the San Juans and Port Townsend/Keystone routes.

Overall, the survey results showed riders are interested in a wide range of potential new amenities, especially on the ferries, as opposed to the terminals, where less time is spent.

On average, 18 percent of riders surveyed indicate they would use a new service offered on a ferry on half or more of their trips and about 40 percent of the commuters surveyed would use the new amenities “at least occasionally.”

“The first priority is to look at the biggest interest among riders and determine what they are willing to pay for that service,” Schorr said.

In addition, Schorr said WSF officials will have to study the operational costs associated with implementing certain services.

“We may have to get additional information with a smaller survey to find out, for example, exactly what kind of food people want,” Schorr said.

Keys to

satisfaction

The survey offered no surprises in this category, suggesting that riders’ satisfaction is strongly linked to on-time performance and route reliability; cleanliness of restrooms, food service courts, dining areas and the ferry itself; enforcing the rules on smoking; ease of loading and exiting the ferry and exiting the terminal; clear directions from employees; ease of purchasing tickets; enforcement of rules on rowdiness and friendly and helpful employees.

Customer

satisfaction

The survey revealed three out of every four ferry riders are satisfied overall with WSF. Results are more favorable among full-fare riders at 79 percent, compared with the 71 percent rating among regular commuters.

“We certainly think there is always room for improvement, and that’s part of what we need to work out,” she added. “We need to analyze the service route by route.”

Nearly half of the respondents wrote the ride is relaxing and fun.

“It was gratifying to see a large percentage of passengers satisfied with WSF,” Schorr said. “You tend to get caught up in the negative otherwise.”

Needed

improvements

The areas in which WSF needs the most improvement, according to surveyed passengers are as follows:

* reduce the fares — 28 percent

* provide more boats or more runs — 25 percent

* keep ferries on schedule —14 percent

* improve customer service —12 percent

* improve the food and beverages available — 10 percent

* provide more improvements and better upkeep — 6 percent

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