Alaska Marine Lines’ (AML) barges usually move one to three vehicles per week. But after regional ferry service shut down in January, that number skyrocketed.
“The first couple of weeks after the ferry situation started, we sent out about 24 [vehicles] and we had 30-something come in that same week, said Michael Ganey, the company’s service center manager in Haines. “So it was a huge upswing.”
The effective shutdown of the Alaska Marine Highway System has been a boon for private sector barges, but it’s costing the state and private citizens a lot more to ship vehicles compared to the ferry.
Since legislators from all over the state were headed to Juneau for the start of the legislative session, the state was on the hook to pay to barge all 21 vehicles out of Haines.
Legislative Affairs executive director Jessica Geary reported the total cost, including shifting parked cars from the state’s ferry dock to the AML dock, was $17,705.66.
That’s roughly six times more expensive than if the Alaska Marine Highway System was running.
It was stressful for lawmakers.
“I want to start by saying I am fully aware that my problems are nothing compared to what people are experiencing and communities with real life and safety issues,” said Rep. Geran Tarr, a Democrat from Anchorage.
Her vehicle was stuck in Haines for 19 days. She says she’s worked in Juneau for more than 20 years—as a legislative aide and as a nature guide. She’s used to travel delays in Southeast.
“Never before has something like this happened. And I think that’s really significant that we have to recognize we have gotten to this place that’s unprecedented in terms of lack of service,” she said.
The state paid for her—and others’—rental cars. So there’s another added expense.
Still, her luggage for the months-long legislative session was in her car’s trunk in Haines. She says her friends in Juneau came through.
“I’m not really in a position where I wanted to, or really could just go replace everything I own… People were really fun and generous and I’d come to work and there’d be some socks on the desk that someone had dropped off for me,” she said with a laugh.
The pace of vehicle shipments in and out of Haines has slowed somewhat. But AML’s Michael Ganey says it’s still twice as much as before, when there were regular ferries.
“We’re moving maybe four or five a week, each direction,” Ganey said.
That’s good business for private carriers like AML. But for regular people… the barge fare is several times the cost of the ferry. And it takes several days to claim your car or truck on the other end.