Alaska Marine Highway - "Elimination Budget could end state ferry sailing by October

#1

https://www.ktva.com/story/40006867/elimination-budget-could-end-state-ferry-sailings-by-october

There is still time, but doesn’t bode well. Would be 8 months folks would have to go without work.

0 Likes

Ferry News
#2

I could not open that article from here, but here is a link to another which presumably is similar:
https://www.ktoo.org/2019/02/21/alaska-ferries-freeze-autumn-ticket-sales-amid-uncertain-future/

0 Likes

#3

It’s sad to see ferry service cut back or eliminated anywhere, especially in Alaska. In fact, I would like to see ferry service make a big comeback in the US. However, most ferry services seem to be struggling. State governments in particular have difficulty running a ferry system in a cost effective manner.

Alaska is a special case. Its a huge remote state with over 20,000 miles of coastline. Most communities, including the capital city are beyond the road system. The ferry system was borne of necessity to serve remote communities, often over vast distances. The Alaska Ferries have become part of the culture in Alaska.

Alaska State Goverment has been run without the slightest care for fiscal discipline on an ocean of “free money” from North Slope oil revenues since the 1970’s. The days of fast flowing oil money are over, at least for now. The commercial economy in Alaska is also very hard hit by the plunge in oil prices. Many many things in Alaska are funded by Federal spending programs. In this post-Ted Stevens era, Alaska does not have the Congressional influence to bring home the bacon the way that Ted did. Federal funding for bridges to nowhere, large remote community construction projects and many other things have been scaled way back.

The tug and barge business which move most of the freight and fuel to remote communities in Alaska are also hard hit. Most tug and barge work in Alaska is seasonal, typically about six months per year. The amount of tugboat “traffic” in Alaska is way down.

To get back to the Alaska ferry system, on most routes it cannot compete with commercial airlines for passengers. It’s much cheaper and much faster, often days faster, to fly. Of course, occassionally one must wait for flying weather. On many routes, taking the ferry as a foot passenger is largely a novelty for tourists. People do not “commute” with cars on the ferry in Alaska. Most non-tourist cars on the ferry only make a one way trip. A lot of cars arrive by barge. Nor can the ferry compete on cost with tug and barge services for freight and fuel. The 600 mile sailings from Washington to Southeast Alaska are primarily a seasonal tourist experience.

I’m not sure what Alaska ferry bureaucrats hope to accomplish by hiring a “qualified marine consultant” to do a report. Too often such “expert” reports turn out to be high priced nonsense. What needs to be done is obvious: Big subsidies to maintain service, or big cuts in routes, schedules, and service. Different communities and routes have different needs, utilization, and economics. It won’t be a one size fits all solution.

An important thing to remember is that most remote coastal communities in Western Alaska do not have any ferry service at all.

Unfortunately, this era of fiscal constraints in Alaska, the state ferry system must shrink, perhaps drastically. Some routes may be eliminated. Some may have less frequency. Some may be seasonal. Some may be contracted out to more cost efficient private companies, including the tug and barge services.

It’s very sad to see the Alaska ferry system floundering.

1 Like

#4

Cutting back the Ferry system will ultimately be a false economy for the State.
Is it expensive to fund the ferries? Yes. Still a hell of a lot less than trying to build roads to all these far flung communities.

Without a ferry system. The cost of every other form of transportation will rise. The ferry keeps the freight rates down.
So people fly?
Probably because the ferry is to expensive already.
Reality the ferry burns the fuel and pays the crew regardless of the no of people.
Reduce to cost of the fare and more people will ride the boat.
Some of the will bring cars or RVs
Without a reasonable ferry fare people just won’t travel to Alaska.
The money the rest of Alaska makes from affordable ferries is more than the cost of the ferries.

Hope they keep running.

Small communities will be hard hit by ferry service reductions.
Lots of other business will be adversely affected in these communities.

BC’s North Coast Ferry system is very heavily subsidized. By the Canadian gov. And the Provincial Gov.
there is no way it can run without a heavy subsidy.
they cut it back a few years ago. Just yesterday the Gov said it will restore service cuts.

People from the local community’s need the ferry.

It’s thier highway.

The government pays billions to maintain highways. It should pay for Alaska’s interstate highway as well.

1 Like

#5

Maybe they go full hutigruten and start competing with the cruise ships that take a similar (seasonal) route with more comfort. Or maybe someone fixes the loophole that allows exploitative labour practices to undercut a public service that would be profitable if more tourists were using it instead of Princess.

0 Likes

#6

Two separate issues in that comment. I agree that the cruise industry thrives on exploiting cheap labor and taxpayer subsidized facilities to sell cheap trips to a mass market. But, few if any of those cruise ship passengers would ever take an AMHS trip and they certainly can’t transport a winter’s worth of supplies to the port nearest their homestead cabin.

The Alaska ferries are part of the highway system, it is called the marine highway for good reason. Many, if not most of the vehicles carried on the ferries were locals moving between ports where no road connection was available.

A few adventurous tourists used the ferry to avoid driving the notorious Alcan highway and the good number of non residents onboard were enjoying a great way to see the ports, people, and landscapes in a way and places no cruise ship passenger could even imagine. The seasonal Aleutian trips were like nothing any mass cruise provider could ever deliver. The first trip of the season was literally a “National Geographic” experience with local kid coming aboard to use the vending machines and see something besides the village for the first time in months.

Those ferries really are part of the culture of the land and in my opinion, well worth what ever subsidy required to keep them moving.

I still believe Alaska is the biggest welfare state in the nation and many of its residents are so used to feeding off the government teat that they will squeal like pigs banned from the trough but if serious cuts are required, I say take them from the Permanent Fund, not the transportation system.

4 Likes

#7

According to the website as of Dec 31, 2018 the permanent fund corp had $60.4 billion in assets. I absolutely agree. Dip into the fund.

0 Likes

#8

Alaska only has a tiny population of about 600,000 (and currently shrinking). Most of the population lives in the Anchorage area. A good proportion of the rest of the population is on the rail belt and road belt. Fairbanks on the road system is the second largest city.

Anchorage is served by TOTE and other container ships which haul that vast majority of the Alaska freight yearound. Alaska Marine Lines, SeaTac, and others also provide barge service to Anchorage or other towns on the road and/or rail system, like Homer, Seward, Whittier, and Valdez.

The major ferry routes are between Bellingham, Washington and the communities throughout Southeast Alaska. These communities are served by air and two barge lines with weekly yearound service: Alaska Marine Lines and Samson.

Prince Willam Sound has ferry service between Whittier (road and rail to Anchorage), Cordova and Valdez (on the road system). Alaska Marine Lines and Samson also provide barge service. Also, there are landingcraft that serve other places.

Kodiak and Dutch Harbor are served by yearound container ships, and barge lines. Kodiak has regular ferry service to Homer on the road system to Anchorage. That ferry route must be preserved.

Some of the communities on the south side of the Alaska Peninsular and False Pass, Akutan, and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians get a few ferry trips per year. Some small communities get none. Those communities are all served by air, barge lines, and some are served frequently small breakbulk freighters from Coastal Transportation. While the ferry service to those communities is desirable, it really isn’t necessary.

There is no ferry service to the many communities north of the Alaska Peninsula of West of Dutch Harbor in the Bering Sea or the Arctic, including such major cities (by Alaska standards) like Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, and Barrow.

1 Like

#9

That an area is served by private companies doesn’t mean that a subsidy for ferries is not worth while. With so called merit goods the benefits of economy as a whole is considered greater than the cost.

It’s very common for the government to subsidize some transportation forms for the working class such as subways and ferries.

This would also explain why the more sparsely areas would lack state ferry service, presumably cost exceed benefits.

That said I don’t think high populated areas in Anchorage and Matanuska-Sustina boroughs would ever agree to dip into the permanent fund for that reason.

0 Likes

#10

Looks to me like a great argument to spend the permanent fund on more ferries rather than support snowmobile and car dealerships.

0 Likes

#11

I think the reality is that Alaska has a greatly reduced oil revenue stream which is not going to recover for many years. There are few other tax revenues. Also, Alaska does not have an income tax or state sales tax, or any dedicated revenues, such as a gas tax to support roads, which other states might typically be able to tap. There is huge budget deficit. There are stringent restrictions on withdrawing money from the Permanent Fund and the Constitutional Budget Reserve. Tapping the Permanent Fund would require a constitutional amendment. The Permanent Fund was intentionally designed to prevent spendthrift politicians from raiding the principal. The Permanent Fund Dividend that every man, woman, and child receives has already been capped at about $1700, instead of the nearly $2700 that it should be this year. It’s an incredibly popular program. People in Alaska will not accept elimination or a large reduction of the PFD. Efforts to adopt a state income tax were very properly defeated. Therefore, big cutbacks in the Alaska ferry service, and many other things in Alaska, are inevitable.

I would prefer to see the Alaska ferry system continued at current levels, if not expanded, with greatly reduced fares for Alaska residents to increase utilization, but I don’t believe that is going to happen.

1 Like

#12

I’m just waiting to see the State of Alaska file for Jones Act exemptions to replace the Marine Highway vessels and crews on the cheap.

0 Likes

#13

More likely they will turn it over to the “native corporations” and relax while the feds pick up the tab.

Alaska really is Appalachia by the sea and the largest welfare state in the nation … and not just by land area.

4 Likes

#14

No more than their lower 48 brethren in the hood would accept an end to welfare checks or food stamps. An entire generation of Alaskans have never known anything else and seems to think an annual welfare check is part of the frontier lifestyle they claim.

3 Likes

#15

BC is reversing their decision on ferry cuts:


Maybe Alaska will follow suit??

0 Likes

#16

And the Unions jump in:
https://www.juneauempire.com/news/unions-prep-to-push-back-against-proposed-ferry-cuts/

1 Like

#17

Yep. Well said and understood.

0 Likes

#18

Actually, the PFD is not welfare. It’s a dividend representing a portion of the five year average annual investment profits from a sovereign wealth fund. Basically, the State of Alaska and the residents of Alaska have a trust fund.

The original principal of the Permanent Fund came from windfall state oil revenues.The Fund invests in stocks, bonds, companies and real estate. All investments must be outside of Alaska for diversification.

The PFD itself does not come from oil revenue.

Unfortunately, the PFD checks, especially the checks for children are not well spent. The biggest purchase with PFD money is discounted fare airline tickets. For awhile the second biggest purchase was big screen TVs. Car dealers, snowmachine dealers, four wheeler dealers, etc all do well when the PFD checks come out.

However, Alaska and the federal government both spend massive sums on public projects and welfare programs. The feds cannot throw money at Native villages fast enough. Remote Villages with no economy, no jobs, and no practical reason to exist are heavily subsidized. Many of these villages are ten times larger than they were 50 years ago.

Alaska is the biggest welfare state in many ways.

1 Like

#19

I lived in Alaska three times since 1974, leaving the last time in 1996.

But two things changed.

After the oil started flowing and the Feds decided that they would pay off Alaska Natives, two significant changes took place:

  1. Both in Alaska and outside, it was decided that every Village should have the same amenities as a city. No where else in the country did this. You want your kid to have a better education than the k-12 one room school room, move to a larger town. But not in Alaska.

And the result is to trap people, Alaska natives, in towns with no jobs, no future, but living off the government.

Your words are spot on, "However, Alaska and the federal government both spend massive sums on public projects and welfare programs. The feds cannot throw money at Native villages fast enough. Remote Villages with no economy, no jobs, and no practical reason to exist are heavily subsidized. Many of these villages are ten times larger than they were 50 years ago.

Alaska is the biggest welfare state in many ways."

  1. Meanwhile the non- native Alaskans, want to live free, absent of government because they are rugged individuals.

But keep the money coming.

Unemployment benefits for those with seasonal jobs is taken for granted.

The pfd is spent on 4 wheelers instead of health insurance, but when they have that accident, they expect to be taken care of.

It’s the hypocrisy that bothers me.

I’ve been telling people it’s the largest welfare state since the late '80’s. Just never saw anyone else say it.

Btw, now i find myself going back for the 4th time. I have a boat, so wil be in the Southeast for a few years.

Richard

0 Likes

#20

Alaska attracts a lot of “pukers” (tourists) and “end-of-the-roaders” to the wild,free, pristine last frontier.

The end-of-the-roaders found their lives at a dead end in the Lower 48, so headed to Alaska for a fresh start. They travelled in Alaska until they fetched up at the end of the road someplace and settled in, usually when they ran out of money. A lot of these end-of-the-readers are criminals, white trash, scam artists, deadbeats, lunatics, or some other form of undesirables.

The PFD is a huge magnet for “white trash” families with 8 kids. They know they are going to get $20,000 year in PFD checks. They basically think that Alaska is going to pay them to hunt and fish. They also think that it’s easy to make big money in Alaska, but it’s not.

0 Likes