Should some state ferry routes be privatized?

Sen. Peter Micciche talks about ferry system budget cuts and privatization at the Southeast Conference meeting in Juneau on March 15, 2016. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld)
Sen. Peter Micciche talks about the ferry budget at a Southeast Conference meeting in Juneau on Tuesday. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A state lawmaker with a significant role in transportation funding decisions says parts of the Alaska Marine Highway should be privatized.

Sen. Peter Micciche is a member of his chamber’s Finance Committee and oversaw crafting of its transportation budget.

He said the ferry system should consider management changes.

“I think parts of the system should be privatized. I think Prince William Sound is the perfect example of some fairly local runs that should be privatized,” he said at a Juneau meeting of the Southeast Conference, a regional development organization.

The Soldotna Republican also chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, which oversees roads, airports and ferries.

Micciche said he doesn’t advocate privatizing the entire ferry system.

“Keep the long runs, the longer routes, in control of the state. Privatize the smaller ones. And the cost savings could go to reliable service for the communities that absolutely depend on a state-run portion or segment of the ferry service,” he said.

The idea’s already being considered in several coastal areas.

Haines and Skagway officials want to study the feasibility of a Lynn Canal ferry authority connecting their communities with Juneau.

Alaska Marine Highway System Capt. Mike Neussl addresses the Southeast Conference Mid-Session Summit in Juneau on March 15, 2016.
Alaska Marine Highway System Capt. Mike Neussl addresses the Southeast Conference on Tuesday. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Marine Highway Capt. Mike Neussl told the Southeast Conference it’s a possibility. He said he’s also met with those interested in taking over Prince William Sound routes, such as Cordova, Valdez and Whittier.

“If a public entity, not necessarily a private entity, but an entity other than the … Alaska Marine Highway System was interested in operating a ferry service there, I think the state would enter serious negotiations with them to discuss vessel transfers, facility transfers and assistance to have them do that as opposed to the state doing that function,” he said.

One part of the marine highway already separated from the larger system.

The Inter-Island Ferry Authority has run a ship between Hollis, on southern Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island, and Ketchikan for about 15 years. It’s a nonprofit operation, run by a board of community representatives.

Most of its revenue comes from the fare box. But it has also received state subsidies most years.

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