Washington State Ferries and the United States Coast Guard have been running into a peculiar issue recently — bicycles left on board ferries.
And they say the impact has been significant.
The reason? When a passenger leaves their bicycle on a ferry, it’s the responsiblity of USCG and ferry personnel to treat it as a potential distress situation until the bicyclist can be confirmed safe.
A team of more than a dozen Coast Guard employees respond when a bike is left on a ferry and it can take hours to verify that no one is in danger. This wastes tens of thousands of tax-payer dollars and could impact the response to an actual distress situation.
There have been 12 cases of bicycles left aboard ferries in the last 18 months, three of which were ride-share bikes. Each individual response can require helicopters, boats and other specialized crews to endanger themselves to search for nonexistent victims.
The resulting search is costly to the Coast Guard and the Washington State Ferry, causing a significant drain on limited resources and negatively impacting those who depend on the ferry. Additionally, the search reduces response capabilities, risking the lives of those who genuinely need help.
“The Washington State Ferry system is a valuable local resource that provides a great benefit to the area by facilitating transportation and reducing commuter congestion,” said Capt. Linda Sturgis, commander, Sector Puget Sound. “However, when bicycles are left behind on a ferry, the Coast Guard assumes the worst and searches in the event the bicycle operator may have fallen overboard. We join the Washington State Ferry system in requesting that bike-share users not bring rented bicycles on board the ferries, instead leaving the bicycle at the pier and boarding as a walk-on passenger. For all passengers, we request you leave with the bikes you bring onboard.”
Less than a week ago, a ride-share bike was left of the ferry resulting in more than $17,000 in helicopter and crew costs associated with a search along the ferry route. No person had fallen overboard.
Ride-share bicycles present an enhanced concern because they are transferred fluidly. Passengers may forget they rode aboard and depart hastily on foot. Due to the increased frequency of ride-share bikes left aboard, the Coast Guard and Washington State Ferries strongly encourage passengers to leave ride-share bikes at the pier and board as walk-on the ferry.