Marine Highway releases trimmed down summer schedule

Passengers disembark the ferry Malaspina in Skagway during its 50th anniversary sailing. Most ferry fares went up Jan. 1. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/360 North)
Passengers disembark the ferry Malaspina in Skagway during its 50th anniversary sailing. Most ferry fares went up Jan. 1. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/360 North)

The Alaska Marine Highway System released its summer 2016 ferry schedule Tuesday, and as expected, it includes trimmed-down service.

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Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the main changes that customers will notice is the reduced fleet size, which he says is in response to state budget cuts.

“One of the main ferries that will not be operating is the Taku, which was in layup last summer, as well,” he said. “And the Malaspina will be in an overhaul period for the majority of the summer.”

One change from the draft summer schedule is the addition of the fast ferry Fairweather, which will operate four days a week, serving Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Sitka. Woodrow said that change was in response to public comment, particularly from Sitka residents.

“Sitka had probably the most drastic reduction in service in the draft schedule, and that was because of elimination of the fast ferries,” he said. “By adding in the fast ferry, changing the way the LeConte is running, Sitka will get improved ferry service than what had been previously proposed.”

One caveat, though: Woodrow said this summer ferry schedule is based on funding levels in Gov. Bill Walker’s spending plan, released last month. The Legislature meets soon and could change those funding levels.

“Should that budget change that may change service. Where it will change is to be determined,” he said. “There’s a lot that can happen throughout the legislative session, and we aren’t going to guess what may happen right now. But we do have to put out a schedule, so passengers can begin planning their travel for the summer.”

For now, passengers who want to book summertime reservations will need to call rather than use the online reservation system. Woodrow said the online system is going through an overhaul right now, and won’t be ready for at least a couple more weeks.

The full summer ferry schedule takes effect May 1 and can be found online.

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