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Hydropower is gold in Southeast Alaska. With that, a $20 million loan for a new hydropower project on Prince of Wales Island is like striking gold.

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5/23/2013
Better plan, please

The scenario: We have a good product/service. We know those who use what our business has to offer like our product. And many who don’t use our service say they would, but it’s cost-prohibitive. They also say that we aren’t open when they need our service.

The problem: We need to make more money; we need more customers.

Our solution: Raise our rates, and be closed more often.

Sound like a good plan?

Heck, no. It doesn’t take an MBA to spot the flaws there. Any small business owner — and any customer —could tell you it will have the opposite effect of what’s desired. To get more customers, you cut rates; you offer specials; you do what you need to attract new business. You know advertising will bring the doubters along, once they know the service is now usable.

Yet the Alaska Marine Highway System, courtesy of the Alaska Legislature, is contemplating raising ferry rates, cutting service and, oh, yeah, getting rid of the driver-rides-free program in the summer.

Any small business owner, and probably big business, too, sympathizes with the increasingly high cost of doing business. Besides, no one likes to operate under a budget that someone else sets at an awkward time, which is what the ferry system must do. It publishes its schedule before it knows the upcoming budget. Of course, it needs to get the schedule out early (and we appreciate it) because travelers make plans based on those schedules.

The ferries already are too expensive for many travelers to utilize, especially to get South.

To take a small car to Bellingham from Ketchikan, for instance — the cost is $827 one way. That includes only the driver and the car. Want a stateroom? Cheapest one you can get that includes a bathroom (a two-berth inside cabin) adds $227 to the bill, bringing the one-way cost for one person and a small car to get to Bellingham to more than a thousand bucks. (If you want a room with a view, four berths, and some space to sit, that alone will run you almost $400. You can cut costs by getting a two-berth room without a bathroom for $56. )

Then, you buy your food during the nearly-40-hour trip. Then, add $239 each if you want to travel with any other adults.

So what a lot of people would do is take the quicker, cheaper ride to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and drive south from there. To walk onto the ferry from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert is $54 one way; with a small vehicle, that cost is $152 one way. Much more palatable. No stateroom needed; little food required for the six-hour ride.

That’s a run they are thinking of cutting in half during Junel 2014.

It’s not that the ferry system wants to make such cuts. In fact, their spokesman said they are looking for ideas, any ideas, to save money. If someone has a reasonable money-saving idea the system can implement, they’d like to hear it.

Time to put on our thinking caps, class. We’re the ones who suffer if our Southeast Alaska “road” system gets driven to ruin. Let’s come up with some good ideas pronto, and save our service. How can the ferries save money, and keep our highway open?