Packed ferries spur violent behavior

It’s official.

The Seattle to Bremerton Washington State Ferries run has turned into a genuine boxing ring.

Since the passenger only ferry boats were cut Sept. 20, the packed 5:30 p.m. run from Seattle to Bremerton and the sardine-style 6:20 a.m. run have flared the tempers of numerous passengers.

At least two fights have been reported, but several remain unreported.

Some passengers complain that ferry workers are just standing by doing nothing.

Mike Shepherd, Bremerton City Council member from District 5, was assaulted by a passenger about a month ago.

“When I got on the ferry all the seats were full, and some people were already lying down,” Shepherd recalled. “I went up to a man and asked him if he wouldn’t mind sitting up. He said ‘Go find some place else.’ I said there wasn’t any place else. He stood up and hit me in the chest with his elbow.”

Shepherd was shocked, but he wasn’t upset until he saw how the ferry workers handled it.

He was told that he should just go find another seat.

According to Susan Harris, the customer relations director for Washington State Ferries, it is not a ferry workers job to force someone to sit up in their seat on a jammed vessel.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do to get people to sit up,” she said. “It is a very confrontive situation. We can only suggest, we cannot enforce.”

The ferry system is different than the Kitsap Transit’s bus system, she said, because there is no law that says you cannot lay down on the seat when the ferry is full. It is just a matter of courtesy.

“I think the only advice I can give is that other passengers provide some peer pressure there and get that person to sit up.”

Ferry workers are trained to deal with confrontational situations. Every one of the 11 employees on the 5:30 p.m. run have watched an eight-part videotape series on how to simmer tempers.

“Do we spend a great deal of time (training) with conflicts, no we don’t have the money (for the training),” Harris said. The ferry workers spend a great deal of time training for emergencies.

Harris sees every complaint that a passenger hands in, and she tries to get back to them within a week saying she’s received it.

From Sept. 20 to Nov. 11 of this year, Harris has received 111 complaints about various issues on the Seattle/Bremerton run. That compares to 34 complaints from the same time last year.

Some have to do with the new schedule, some with the cleanliness of the vessel, and a couple referencing confrontational situations.

Shepherd has passed on 12 complaints in the last two years.

“I have never gotten anything back but a response that is like ‘thank you for your input and we’ll take action,’ ” he said.

He has complained about the cleanliness of the ferry, as well as the fact that smokers continue to puff in the front of the vessel even though there are signs and an announcement at the beginning not to do so.

Some passengers have seen ferry workers sit out in the area without asking a person to extinguish their lit cigarette.

Sandi Whitmore is a Bremerton resident and frequent rider. She sent an e-mail out to the Ferry Advisory Committee last week about what she considers irresponsible employee behavior.

“Last week I was waiting to get on the 6:20 a.m. boat and watched a ferry worker go to work at 6,” she wrote. “He has the job of standing and watching the cars load, not directing, just watching. No one can even bother to make sure that a gap is left for the bicycles to get out. Then I saw him go out to the smoking area and hang out there drinking coffee and talking to someone until we were in Seattle. This is not unique.”

Currently, Bremerton has one large, 160-car vessel, the Kitsap, and one smaller vessel, the 130-car ferry Kaleetan.

Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman addressed the city council at its Sept. 26 meeting.

“Our service got worse, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “This is a very political issue.”

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