More People Are Riding State Ferries

The Alaska Marine Highway System had a good year in 2011, with ridership up throughout the state’s ferry system.

Deputy Commissioner Capt. Mike Neussl gave an update Wednesday, during the second day of Southeast Conference convention in Craig.

“We carried an all-time record number of vehicles in calendar year 2011 – even for the Marine Highway System in 50 years,” Neussl says. “If you just look at Southeast only, not Southwest and Southcentral, those numbers are up too, but not quite as significantly.”

Operating expenses for 2012 are $171 million, and revenue came in at about $52.2 million from ticket sales. Neussl says that also is a record.

“And I’ll point out that that record revenue generation was achieved without a fare increase. We haven’t had a fare increase in the Marine Highway System in, like, four years. So, that increase in revenue is due to an increase in ridership,” he says.

Neussl says the summer 2013 schedule will go online soon for reservations, and there have been some changes. He says the Malaspina will homeport all week in Juneau rather than some days in Skagway. And the LeConte will overnight in Hoonah, Angoon and Pelican.

Some upcoming projects include a rebuilt terminal and dock at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Neussl says the ferry system first has to renegotiate its lease for that dock.

Construction on the Annette Bay Terminal is underway, and he says it should be done in time to start service this fall. That terminal will cut the travel time between Metlakatla and Ketchikan in half.

Neussl also addressed federal funding program for ferries.

“The distribution of that funding, which is set at $67 million a year for the next two years, is going to be based on a formula which consists of 20 percent based on the number of passengers, 45 percent on the number of vehicles, and 35 percent the number of route miles. The Alaska Marine Highway System doesn’t stack up too well when you compare us to Staten Island ferries or Washington State ferries which carry 22 million passengers a year. We carry about 330,000 passengers a year.”

Alaska can compete with route miles. The state’s ferry system has about 11,000 route miles, which Neussl says means federal funding will remain at its current level, or might even go up.

Also coming up for the Alaska Marine Highway System is a regulation review. Neussl says the system’s regulations are outdated and need to be rewritten.

That rewrite will include a more clear animal-transport policy.
Neussl says that, according to policy, a health certificate is needed only to import an animal into the state. Within the state, a certificate is not required, although the person in charge of the animal should declare it.

The Alaska Marine Highway System will turn 50 years old next year. The Southeast Conference formed in 1958 to advocate for the establishment of the state ferry system.

The organization of Southeast Alaska communities and business interests has expanded its mission since then, and now is a regional, nonprofit corporation that focuses on issues of general interest to Southeast Alaska.

The group meets annually, each year in a different Southeast community. The three-day Craig conference began Tuesday.