Dori: Internal ferry system memos show PR image more important than service

May 8, 2022, 7:03 AM
A ferry and a tanker pass through the Puget Sound near Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market on March ...
A ferry and a tanker pass through the Puget Sound near Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market on March 11, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

In an internal public relations move last October, the Washington State Ferry System preemptively slashed sailings rather than face ongoing negative publicity for possible service disruptions and cancellations, the Washington Policy Center WSDOT canceled ferry service to avoid daily bad press, the Washington Policy Center has learned.

WPC writer Mariya Frost told The Dori Monson Show on Friday that she confirmed this after obtaining emails through the Public Disclosure Act. The memos showed DOT secretary Roger Millar, recommending “making reductions now.

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“It will be a story one time,” Millar wrote on Oct. 7, 2021 to his communications team. “Daily missed sailings will be a daily story.”

It shows, Frost told Dori and his listeners, the move was about “putting the image of the agency above service.”

Millar told colleagues his recommendation was opposed by Governor Jay Inslee.

But one week later, WSF director Patty Rubstello issued an Oct. 13 public press release that stated, “To better reflect the service we can currently provide and to minimize last-minute cancelations due to a lack of crew, we made this difficult decision to adjust our schedules.”

WSF claimed the cutbacks were announced to show more “reliability,” Frost said. Instead, she told Dori, it was more like “stopping projects to avoid a change order.”

The email threads, Frost told Dori, came almost two weeks before nearly 400 ferry service employees were fired by DOT for refusing Inslee’s COVID vaccine mandate. It also came on the heels of months of unexpected service reductions due to staffing shortages, blamed on a combination of COVID illness and worker retirements.

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The preemptive, she said, was “PR strategy. . . In other words, `we do not want to deal with bad press every day, where we get staff calling out sick. . . Let’s just do a clean sweep, cut service. One story and then everyone moves on with their life.’”

Had WSF waited until the cuts were truly needed, she said, “At least they would have been able to provide what service they could. Chances are they cut service that did not need to be cut, inconveniencing hundreds or thousands (of passengers).”

Listen to Dori Monson weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Dori: Internal ferry system memos show PR image more important than service