The Alaska Marine Highway’s ferry Matanuska will sail to Prince Rupert 4 times per month. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)

Prince Rupert makes the cut in draft Alaska Marine Highway System schedule

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities releases proposed AMHS schedule

Prince Rupert has made the cut in the proposed Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) schedule for May 2020 through September 2020.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities released the schedule Tuesday morning and it is now available for public review.

“The draft schedule is based on expected funding levels for fiscal year 2021. The operating plan is designed to meet community service needs while staying within available funding levels and maintaining regulatory and safety standards for the vessels,” the department stated.

The Matanuska ship is set to sail from Prince Rupert twice per week every other week, for a total of four times per month.

Ferry service between Prince Rupert and Alaska has seen several issues, from the need for RCMP officers to be present to keep American border officials safe, budgetary constraints and a dispute over dock repairs.

“We’re currently still working on logistics, and I will allow the state to make comment regarding the terminal upgrades once they are ready,” said Mayor Lee Brain when asked if this meant the parties involved had reached a permanent solution.

READ MORE: City of Prince Rupert foots the bill for armed RCMP officers at Alaska ferry terminal, two trips scheduled

Alaska-Rupert ferry service cuts recommended: U.S. report

On. Jan. 15. a long-awaited analysis of the Alaska Marine Highway System was released by an Anchorage-based economic analysis firm.

Alaskan lawmakers and state officials had been waiting on the report before making any substantial changes to the ferry system, which featured a $40 million funding cut under the Legislature’s 2020 budget.

The report’s conclusions will be used as a guide for lawmakers as they decide the future of AMHS.

Various scenarios recommended int he report ranged from increased service, lower service or no service to Prince Rupert.

Five takeaways from the report

1) Analysis suggests some kind of public corporation:

Out of the 11 options suggested by the report, Northern Economics suggests creating two public corporations to take control of the ferry system. The report says the public corporation model proposed by the AMHS Reform Project and Southeast Conference would be a good basis to start from.

However, even under a public corporation subsidized in part by the state, certain routes may be cut entirely from the system.

In the suggested option, “several route groups go without any service for extended periods of time. External service on the mainline runs to Bellingham and Prince Rupert is severely curtailed,” according to the report.

A public corporation would have increased fares and most likely decreased pay for AMHS employees.

2) Cost-cutting over revenue generation:

Given the size of the AMHS’ losses, the report says, reducing costs could be more important than generating revenues. That would mean reductions in one or more areas, the report ways. Reducing the number of boats, operating days, staffing levels and pay for AMHS employees are all ways costs could be cut according to the report.

3) Prices are going to go up

“Increasing fares is the most direct way to boost revenue,” the report says. That doesn’t mean that fares would go up for every route. Some routes could potentially see a decrease in fares but most lines would see their prices go up for both passengers and vehicles.

4) Wages are likely to go down

Many of the options in the report calls for the “re-negotiation” of labor contracts. In addition to proposing decreased wages for AMHS employees, smaller crews and fewer hours were suggested as a way of reducing costs.

“Demand for ferry services is highly seasonal,” the report says. “In order for AMHS to minimize its operational subsidies and to continue to operate, vessels need to have the flexibility to change operating parameters during the course of the year.”

5) Selling or leasing to private companies is not viable

The analysis says private companies would not find many of the current AMHS routes profitable, and thus would not provide service to many communities which depend on the ferries.

“Private companies would find that operations in Lynn Canal and Metlakatla-Ketchikan are the only currently services routes for which ferry service could be provided at break-even levels of costs and revenues,” the report says.

In order to provide service to non-profit generating communities, some kind of state subsidy is needed, according to the report.

READ MORE: Immediate deal to reinstate AMHS in Prince Rupert not out of the question: Mayor Brain

READ MORE: Prince Rupert not alone in fight to save ferry to Ketchikan: Alaskan Rep. Ortiz

Peter Segall | Journalist

Juneau Empire, Black Press

Contact: 907-523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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