Positive changes at the Alaska
Marine Highway System
By James Beedle
August 09, 2008
This administration inherited
an Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) spiraling out of financial
control and lacking operational stability. In the four fiscal
years from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007, the amount of state
funds needed for operations escalated from $43.5 million to $94.2
million. During this period, budgets and operating plans were
submitted to the legislature for approval and then routinely
changed again and again. In 2006, the legislature became so concerned,
it passed language in a bill stating that the AMHS should operate
within the budget and operations approved by legislators. We're
doing just that, and we're making positive, beneficial changes
that Alaskans are likely to embrace.
This administration began analyzing the problems and finding
solutions. AMHS management also sought input from the Marine
Transportation Advisory Board (MTAB), state and local officials,
and the general public.
From that effort, AMHS created a budget and operating plan that
balanced fiscal responsibility and efficient use of vessels with
the demand for more service from virtually every community and
increased labor and fuel costs. The budget and operating plan
were offered to the legislature, the MTAB, and the public for
review and comment. Ultimately, the legislature and MTAB approved
the budget and operating plan. Recognizing stability is critical
in providing time to completely build up ridership on the new
schedules, MTAB has asked AMHS to maintain the new schedules
for the next three years.
I am happy to report to Alaskans the operations and schedule
changes have proven both AMHS and MTAB right in recognizing schedule
improvements. Total traffic from May 11, 2008 through August
3 increased 6 percent for both passengers and vehicles, compared
to the same time period in 2007. By moving the motor vessel Malaspina
to Lynn Canal, the AMHS provided more service to Sitka and Petersburg
with the fast vehicle ferry Fairweather. Passenger and vehicle
embarkation has increased at all communities in Lynn Canal this
summer, with even larger increases at Sitka, (19 percent for
passengers and 16 percent for vehicles), Petersburg, (20 percent
for passengers and 13 percent for vehicles) and Prince Rupert
(18 percent for passengers and 26 percent for vehicles).
The current schedule also provides the needed connection between
the communities of Haines and Skagway, and meets the need for
vehicle capacity in Lynn Canal. We have received positive comments
from local officials and residents of these communities.
For the first time in the history of the AMHS, a draft summer
schedule has been released almost one year ahead of time and
about five months earlier than last year. This should help provide
stability and with a ferry system, increased stability usually
means increased ridership, as communities, schools, businesses,
and residents become familiar with the schedules and how it fits
their travel or shipping needs.
The most important part of my message for Alaskans is that we
continue working hard to stay the course of AMHS. We understand
the importance of stability in budgeting and operations to the
legislature and the public as AMHS strives to meet the public
s transportation needs. We welcome and expect to receive comments,
both good and bad, because that is the public process. While
I have responsibility for making operational decisions, public
input is welcome and will be considered.
Here's another exciting development. When the Aurora returned
to service earlier this summer, it did so in a new, hybrid sort
of fashion. It underwent a federally-funded, capital improvement
project overhaul and was outfitted with an Electronic Speed Pilot
system. We re confident this may save as much as $5 million in
fuel costs during the next few years.
This new computerized system is integrated into the ship's navigation
instruments and main engines. It's designed to control the vessel's
power and speed settings and eventually add to fuel consumption
savings. While the system is currently being used aboard Aurora,
AMHS engineers are in the process of tracking potential fuel
savings. As an example of the savings, Aurora saved 16 percent
on fuel costs on one day in July. At four dollars per gallon
for fuel, the savings for one day was more than $1,000. AMHS
engineers will install the systems in the vessels Matanuska and
Tustumena this winter in conjunction with those vessels undergoing
federal capital improvement projects. Other vessels will follow.
As someone who began as a steward on AMHS about 30 years ago,
and who has worked on almost every AMHS vessel during those years,
I am proudly and passionately dedicated to operating the system
as effectively as possible. With the full support of Commissioner
Leo von Scheben, I will work hard every day to make your ferry
system as safe, dependable and sustainable as possible. Thank
you for the opportunity to serve you.
About: "Jim Beedle is
the deputy commissioner of marine operations for the Alaska Marine
Received August 08, 2008 -
Published August 09, 2008
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