"Everyone hates reservations", "They only work for tourists", "4th of July is all booked up", "Reservations are destroying the wedding business ". These are several of the misconceptions about Washington State Ferries reservations I've heard.
No system is perfect, but people could do everyone a favor and stop spreading lies about the system.
Plenty of islanders really like the system. They like knowing they will be getting on a sailing without having to be in line hours ahead. They like knowing they can stop for fuel or groceries or an espresso on the way back to the islands and still make the ferry. They like knowing family and friends can more comfortably plan a visit.
There is no doubt that the system helps tourists, considering our economy is based on tourism that would seem to be a good thing. Reservations also help islanders.
The system which was created by a large committee of citizens representing a broad range of demographics, strikes a healthy balance between the interests of visitors and residents.
Let's take the 4th of July for example. First off it is not "all booked up." As of today, 70 percent of the spaces for the holiday are unreserved. 30 percent will open up for reservations two weeks prior to July 3, 4, 5 and 6. The third 30 percent will open up two days before sailings. The final 10 percent is for emergencies and drive-ups.
Remember the year the Fourth of July traffic was backed up all the way to Safeway in Anacortes. That won't happen this year. People won't be sitting in the hot sun in the terminal parking lots for hours waiting to get on a ferry. Barring a ferry breakdown, drivers will be able to drive up less than an hour to their sailing.
They'll leave home without the stress of uncertainty about getting a space. They won't be cancelling their lodging reservations because they can't get on a boat. Family members and friends of residents can plan to visit knowing they aren't facing a battle to get here or to get home.
So what about the last comment, the damage reservations are doing to the local wedding business. This misconception appears to be based on one incident which apparently was due to a rather odd misunderstanding. Supposedly wedding guests were stymied because they did not know what size of rental car they would be driving.
How this was an issue is hard to understand since almost all passenger cars fit in the 22' or under category. This seems to be more of a communication problem than an actual reservation problem. If anything the fact that guests can make reservations should make island weddings a more viable option.
There are legitimate concerns regarding reservations. Is traffic going to clog the streets near the terminals when 144 drivers arrive at once to take a ferry? What happens if people are stuck in line at the tollbooths and miss their reservations?
If these scenarios take place, Washington State Ferries will have to find remedies. Just like they did for the overloads on the reservation website when it crashed the day the first 30 percent of summer reservations opened.
There are enough things in this crazy world to be upset about. Reservations aren't one of them.
Let's stick to the facts and help find solutions to actual glitches if and when they appear.
And if spontaneity is essential to you, hop an inter-island boat to Lopez. You can relive the good old days and get in line - they don't take reservations.