Transcript: Washington Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Reforming Ferries

Washington ferries are “roads” connecting communities and a critical part of the transportation network. Image: Stephen J Brown, WSF

The final debate in the Washington Governor’s debate was held Tuesday night. Here’s the transcript of a question about reforming and funding the ferry system. Also see the transcript of an exchange on tolling, and light rail.

Moderator: In the last few years, Rob, we’ve exposed lots of problems with our very world famous state ferry system from millions of wasted tax dollars to  just in the last 24 hours a potential work slow down of ferry employees who are upset with a cut in wages and job opportunities there. If you were to be Governor, what would your administration do to once and for all to clean up the ferry system that many people in the state are real proud of?

McKenna: Well first of all, as with all agencies we’re gonna put new people in charge. I mean, when you elect a new administration you should be electing a Governor who brings in a fresh crew of people, and that certainly would include people who are overseeing the ferry system. We’re gonna bring people in from the private sector who are experienced in transportation and who understand the importance of the ferry system as part of our highway system, it is in fact the marine highway. We’re going to go in and audit that agency thoroughly but we’re not just going to look at how workers are doing. frankly there are a lot of hard working workers in the ferry system as there are throughout state government.  We’re going to pay particular attention to management – middle management and upper management.  Because in my experience what you often see in budget and in operations is that the people writing those budgets try to make it easier on themselves. It happens in agencies like the ferry system. We’ll also bring in folks who are experts in ferry systems elsewhere to help us evaluate what we could be doing better. but beyond that, Susanna, I think it’s important to listen to the workers themselves.  Are there some workers who have been at fault? Sure, but there are also going to be workers in the ferry system who understand what the problems are, we ought to be listening to them just we need to listen consistently  to the people who use that system, to the customers so that we understand what their concerns are and what they think where the changes for improvement are needed.

Inslee: Olympia needs a whole new culture of how we do business in state government. And it needs a disruptive force to bring those changes. And I intend to be that disruptive force, and I want to talk about how.  It’s not just the ferry system.  You know you see incredible improvements in quality, and efficiency, in private sector businesses all around us. But we’ve not embraced those chances, basically called lean management systems, or constant quality improvement systems, in state government.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t do that in the ferry system, and every single state agency in state government. We have to do more with less. We have to get more product per unit of work. So I’m gonna bring in folks from the private sector to help embrace a culture of lean management like the folks at Boeing have done, to increase their 737 production 32%. Like the leaders at Virginia Mason have done that have reduced their infection rate. Like the leadership at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in Vancouver I was at the other day where they’ve reduced their overtime 60% by using these systems of lean management. And this is gonna take time, it will not be done overnight. But when we see the spectacular success of private enterprise, we need to [bring?] that performance to state government.

Moderator:  My follow up question is real specific. It’s no secret the ferry system is absolutely flat broke. Millions of dollars are siphoned away from our Washington State Department of Transportation every year to keep the ferries afloat.  But you know that affects every taxpayer in the state. That means money’s taken away from maybe funding a project to fix roads in Yakima, or Spokane, so ride a ferry or not, it affects you. What would your administration do to fund the ferry system?

McKenna: First of all, they’re not siphoning money away from the transportation budget. The ferry system is part of the transportation system, and a crucial part. Instead of highways across Puget Sound, we have a ferry system.  So I think that’s unfair. Number two, there are very few parts of the transportation system that recover 70% of their operating costs from the fare box, as the ferries do.  Rate payers, or ferry users, are paying a lot in fares already. They’re carrying more of their share for that transportation system than users of the rest of the system carry.

Inslee: The ferry system is emblematic of what we need to do throughout our transportation system. Look we’ve got several mega projects that are gonna need to be financed in the next biennium. The Columbia River Crossing in Vancouver, the 520 Bridge, 167 to make sure we have freight mobility this is very important. One out of three jobs is dependent on freight mobility. And it’s imperative that we move forward in transportation.  And when we do this, with a comprehensive package that helps the whole state, ferries need to be an intrical part of that, because they have to have a capital system to keep the boats running.

McKenna: That’s exactly right, they need to be part of the package.

Moderator: You talked about changing upper management.  Would you fire David Moseley who runs the ferries system?

McKenna: Yes. But I don’t think I’ll need to, because I think he’ll resign. I think all agency heads routinely resign.

Moderator: And what steps would you take, Mr. Inslee, when you say you’re going to be a disruption in the force?

Inslee: Here’s what I mean. If you look at what Boeing has done, they’ve used a science called new management, it started at Toyota..

Moderator interrupts: But what specifically would you do?

Inslee:  I would make sure that every state employee has training in lean management, and I never hire a single leader, mid-manager or otherwise, who’s not fully embracing this concept for constant quality improvement.