Travel tip: Don’t forget your car on the ferry


One of my colleagues lives on Bainbridge Island and has quite a long commute to work each day. From his house, he walks to the bus stop, then takes the bus to the Winslow ferry terminal, then takes the ferry to the Seattle ferry terminal, then takes the bus to Microsoft. And at the end of the day, he does the trip in reverse.

One day, for whatever reason, he drove to work instead of taking the bus. He drove to the ferry terminal, took the ferry across, then drove to work. And at the end of the day, he drove to the ferry, but when the ferry arrived at its destination, he forgot that he had driven his car and walked off the boat to the bus.

While on his way home on the bus, he got a phone call from his wife. "Did you forget your car on the ferry, dear?"

Oops.

Now, leaving your car on the ferry is a bad thing not just because your car is now an obstacle on the ferry deck which all the other drivers must maneuver around. When there is an abandoned car on the deck, one of the possibilities that must be investigated is that a passenger has fallen overboard.

The crew took the ship offline, conducted a search of the vessel, and initiated a search-and-rescue operation along the ferry route, looking for a body floating in the water.

My colleague had to sheepishly call the ferry authorities and say, "Hello, I believe you're looking for me."

(Today is Transit Driver Appreciation Day, but I don't think your ferry captain will complain if you thank him/her, too.)

Comments (26)
  1. Falcon says:

    Imagine the chaos if you could take your car onto an airliner and you accidentally left it there…

  2. SI says:

    It could be worse. I once was told of a guy who had a roadblock setup just for him because he sped past a forest ranger.

  3. Andre says:

    Wow. I usually walk to work, but the few times I drive, I did forget my car at work more than once.

    But this, that's on a whole different level.

  4. Evan says:

    I have left my bike on a bus rack a couple times, but like @Andre said, that's a different level. (Though one time I didn't actually get it back…)

  5. Boris says:

    Clearly a bug in ferry design. Drivers should not be allowed to leave their cars in transit, or they could leave them but not the actual area where the cars are stored.

    – Hey, where's your car?

    – Oops, sorry!

  6. Justin says:

    It sounds like the kind of thing that ticket-checking on debarkation would catch. Checking out from the ferry on foot, with a vehicle ticket? Get reminded that you drove on, and perhaps you'd like to drive off as well.

  7. Adam Rosenfield says:

    All of the car ferries I've ridden on always have an announcement on the PA asking drivers to return to their cars shortly before arriving.  Of course, if you're used to riding the ferry as a non-driver, it's really easy to tune out and ignore that announcement.

  8. Brian_EE says:

    It's a safety issue really (and most likely a legal requirement levied on the ferry operators). If the ferry starts to sink, they need to be able to get everyone in life vests. If you are in your car, there is the possiblility of being trapped when the boat sinks and losing your life.

  9. nathan_works says:

    google maps indicates the ferry+bus is about a 2 hr commute. By car, about 1:15 — assuming it's to the Redmond office.. That's, well, not much is worth losing 4 hours of your day. (yah, read, be productive, etc, but 4 hrs a day?  Please.)

  10. morlamweb says:

    @nathan_works: does your time calculation factor in typical traffic during a workday rush hour?  I suspect that it might take longer that 1:15 to drive there.  Not to mention that you're still losing two and a half hours per day if you drive.  If "losing" time is the most important criteria, then why not telecommute?  There the time taken for transportation is nil.

  11. PNW says:

    @Claudio @Brian_EE – No such requirement on Washington State Ferries.  You can, and some people do, spend the trip in their vehicles.

  12. T. West says:

    I'm just amazed his car wasn't exploded or compacted as possible bomb threat.  Thank goodness there is still some sanity to be found.

  13. Al Go says:

    This is the weakest "CLR week" yet.

  14. Malcolm says:

    @morlamweb: You make one great assumption: that your employer permits you to telecommute.

    My employer has no 'Working At Home' policy, therefore we're not allowed to… Apparently they cite 'insurance' as a main reason. Although I think it's more to do with their restrictive 'Smoking at Work' policy (since it's not allowed, it should probably be more accurately described as a 'No Smoking at Work' policy…). Heaven forbid that telecommuting should be allowed, because then all the smokers that could would instantly start to telecommute, allowing them to enjoy the freedom of smoking at 'work' :p

  15. Claudio says:

    @Boris, don't know about in the US, but where I live drivers and passengers *must* vacate the cars as a safety measure. And because you are in the same general area as walking passengers, it is easy to mess things up if you're out of your routine.

  16. Cesar says:

    Just for fun, imagining how to prevent distracted people from doing that.

    Suppose the ferry ticket is a RFID card (that's the case in the ferry I take, though the one I take doesn't transport cars, only people and bicycles). Then change the station to also require the ticket on exit, not only on entrance (that means the single-use ticket should be swallowed on the exit instead of the entrance). Have separate exit turnstiles for pedestrians and cars.

    Now, if anyone forgets their car, the ticket will get rejected on exit, and the distracted driver will wake up.

  17. CatCube says:

    I'm wondering why they don't check tickets on and off, not to avoid someone forgetting their car and triggering search and rescue, but to detect non-drivers who may have fallen overboard.

    [If an unattended bag is left on the train, they may call the police. So why not count the bags of every passenger as they get on and verify that the bag count matches as they get off? It's the difference between acting on found evidence and actively generating evidence. -Raymond]
  18. Andrew says:

    @Justin: The problem is that on the WA state ferries, there's no checkout; there's just a mad rush to get off. The staff prioritizes speed over accuracy, because in general it is in the best interest of the passengers to get off to get home or make their appointments or get to their jobs. The crew of a ship does a search of the vessel to make sure everyone's off, and then they let the flood of people on.

    The troubles are compounded by the fact that walk-ons only have to pay going one way. On Bainbridge you just walk right on to the ferry with no tickets or Orca card involved. It keeps their costs down, and they just charge you double on the Seattle side. While they could have checkpoints at both terminals, that would cost much more to maintain and staff, and it would make the process of (dis)embarking the ship much slower, and they'd lose precious sailing time as a result.

    It's a fairly decent self-regulating system, but even when it does go wrong like this, it's not THAT big of a problem. They have plenty of spare vessels, and the ship will probably be delayed until the next scheduled sailing. Kind of a bummer, but it isn't happening all too frequently.

  19. Andrew says:

    @nathan_works Once you get into the groove of it, the 2 hour commute really isn't all too bad. I get a solid 25 minutes from Poulsbo to the Bainbridge ferry, and a solid 35 minutes on the ferry to watch TV or read or work on my laptop. While my particular bus on the Seattle side usually doesn't have any sitting room, I can still listen to Audible or podcasts while waiting to get to work.

    It's much cheaper than driving, too. It's about $12.50 each way to take your car on the ferry, so it would be $250 a month for a 20 day work month just for the ferry. On the other hand, a month-long walk-on pass is only $103. If you're also paying for the bus, it's about another $100/month if you're paying 2-zone fare. It's basically a hard limit of $200 vs a minimum of $250 + gas, which can add up over time.

    On top of all that, you also have to deal with the stress of driving! Rush-hour space on the ferry is at a premium, so you have to get to the ferry at least 30 minutes early on the way back, or else you risk having to wait for the next sailing due to the ferry filling up. On the other hand, you can cut it as close as 2 minutes before the scheduled sailing time you want to ride as a walk-on. The passenger cabin never runs out of space. Even at its most crowded, I'd say the ferry was only at half of its total passenger capacity.

  20. cheong00 says:

    @Justin: At least ferries in Hong Kong never check for ticket when disembarking. This allows passengers to leave the ferry quicker, and then passengers of the next sailing can get aboard earlier.

    However it probably help if the crews broadcast PA to tell the drivers get on the cars before letting the ramp down.

  21. Boris says:

    But since your colleague is a presumably a software developer, surely he could equip his car with Windows 8 or a Windows 8 device, then develop a smartphone app which raises an alarm whenever the distance to the car exceeds a few dozen or hundred yards AND the car is located at GPS coordinates corresponding to the ferry dock.

  22. morlamweb says:

    @Malcolm: I make no assumptions; I was only taking nathan_works' logical reasoning to it's endpoint.  If they're bothered by four hours of travel time per day, then surely 2:30 of travel time (some of which is likely spent in heavy traffic) can't be good, either, so why not reduce the travel time as much as possible?  I wasn't referring to any person's commute in particular.  My own office has a similar "no working from home" policy.  I make no guarantees as to whether telecommuting is an option for any person.  My point is that reducing travel time is not the only thing to consider when changing your commute.  That's why I asked if their analysis of the travel time by car factored in traffic congestion.  It's well wroth considering the conditions of your commute, and mode of travel, rather than the total time in isolation.  I would opt for a leisurely ferry ride if I had the option.  I know plenty of people who would rather choose to be locked in a metal box stuck in traffic over public transit.  Each of us has our own priorities.

  23. noexit says:

    It's so rare that a person falls overboard, and usually there is a witness, so checking disembarking passengers is not necessary.

  24. Engywuck says:

    @morlamweb: telecommuting sounds nice. But at least where I live (germany) the equivalent of the OSHA and other laws demand of the employer to check the working place for health hazards, icluding ergonomic working conditions etc. This in theory (and depending on who you aks :-)) includes your telecommuting working space… do you want your employer to check your private home if you have such conditions?

  25. DWalker says:

    "My employer has no 'Working At Home' policy, therefore we're not allowed to… Apparently they cite 'insurance' as a main reason."

    Health insurance?  Life insurance?  Unemployment insurance?  This doesn't make any sense.  None of that should be affected (adversely) by employees working from home.  

    If your employer doesn't want to let employees work from home, for example if the employer doesn't trust the employees to actually get any work done, it should say so and not make up excuses.  Of course, unproductive employees can always be "released".  And employees who don't like suspicious employers can always try to change jobs….

    I would be allowed to work at home, but I am more productive in an office, and my commute is short, so I prefer to work in an office.  I'm glad I have the luxury of deciding.

  26. morlamweb says:

    @Engywuck: you're at least the second person to completely miss the point of my reply to nathan_works.  I'm just trying to point out that there are more factors to consider when choosing your commute than just travel time.  I used telecommuting as an extreme to illustrate my point; at no point did I suggest that as a commute option to any one person in particular.  

    As for the German regulations on working conditions: if they really do apply to telecommuting, and your employer is OK with it, and it's not overly burdensome, then why not?  If it amounts to a check-in once or twice a year, then I would go with it, because then I would get the benefit of working from home.

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