- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2020

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Members of the Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group plan to make achieving consistent, dependable state ferry service the group’s top priority.

The group held its first meeting April 30 with a focus on the frequency and affordability of state ferry service for residents, The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported Wednesday.

The first few meetings are expected to focus on establishing the reshaping group’s high-level objectives, group Chairman Tom Barrett said.

The group also expects to devise a strategy for implementing its recommendations and eventually providing the state Legislature and Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration with a path to transition to improved service.

Dunleavy appointed the nine-member reshaping work group in February following the release of a study of ferry system reforms with a focus on reducing its annual state subsidy.

The study commissioned by the administration highlighted many challenges facing the system, but did not provide significant recommendations for restructuring operations or management.

The work group’s recommendations are due by the end of September for implementation in fiscal year 2023, the governor’s office said.

Group member Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference, acknowledged the frequency of future service likely will not meet residents’ expectations.

“They just want to know that they can get from point A to point B on a reliable schedule,” said Venables, who also chairs the state Marine Transportation Advisory Board.

Ferry service needs to be a more affordable transportation option for Alaskans who do not have the means to travel frequently by air, Republican state Sen. Bert Stedman said.

The ferry service needs to get “back to the basics” as a system primarily for Alaskans with some accommodations made because the system receives federal funding.

“You’ve got to have a transportation corridor,” Stedman said, noting significant changes can be made in the system’s structure but cutting off service is unacceptable. “It’s basically one of the most fundamental aspects of an economy.”

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