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Quick Launch of Ferry Reservation System Provides Access for Point Roberts Residents During COVID-19

Bellingham, WA, USA
CivicPlus

Government Champion

Port Public Affairs Administrator

Cost

Zero upfront cost to local government

Project Status

Operational since 2021

Project Type

At a Glance

During COVID-19, the U.S. and Canada closed their borders, leaving residents of Point Roberts, WA, unable to cross into the mainland for essential services. The Port of Bellingham rapidly deployed a ferry and new reservation system using their existing website infrastructure to streamline access and operations.

Problem Addressed

Bellingham is 31.5 nautical miles from Point Roberts, WA, a pene-exclave of the U.S on the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, south of Vancouver. Its approximate 1,000 residents can reach Bellingham by land by crossing north into Canada through a border checkpoint at the northern end of town, then driving southeast about 25 miles to cross back into the U.S. through another checkpoint near Blaine, WA. Typically, residents enjoy free travel through Canada to reach Whatcom County to obtain routine services, sometimes making the trip several times per day.

All that changed during the COVID-19 crisis.

When the U.S. and Canada closed their borders to one another for non-essential travel to help mitigate virus spread, the citizens of Point Roberts were left stranded and without an easy way to travel back into the mainland U.S. to obtain the routine services they needed daily. Citizens traveling into Canada must follow 14-day quarantine protocols, making doctor’s appointments and other important services logistically complex and burdensome for people living in Point Roberts.

“Our mission at the Port of Bellingham is to meet the transportation needs of our county,” said Michael Hogan, Port of Bellingham Public Affairs Administrator. “With the land border effectively closed, our Port Commission directed staff to set up emergency ferry service to take residents between Point Roberts and the mainland United States to obtain essential services.”

Hogan and his fellow Port of Bellingham leaders rapidly needed to work through the offering’s logistics once they received approval to set up the ferry service.

Port staff began taking reservations by email and phone, tracking reservations using an Excel spreadsheet. Not surprisingly, the demand among citizens who had been cut off from the mainland for months was at first overwhelming, with over 500 citizens requesting ferry reservations in the first week. The high demand created huge logistical challenges for the Port’s administrative team.

The Port of Bellingham, WA used/is using their CivicEngage website solution's facility reservation feature to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The Port adopted an online reservation system that leveraged its existing website infrastructure so that it was easy to set up and manage by the existing team. It took one day to get the system up and running. Specifically, the software allows citizens to schedule multiple leg trips and cap the number of passengers.

"I looked at three different systems used for transportation services,” said DeSimone, “but they all generally required long implementation periods, and we needed to get a system in place in a matter of days. We talked to our client success manager and trainer at CivicPlus to ask if we already had access to a feature that could help with our ferry scheduling. They recommended the Activities feature, which, it turned out, was exactly what we needed.

Outcomes

  1. Citizens have easy access to book a ferry ride directly from the homepage of the Port of Bellingham’s website.
  2. The online reservation system enabled the Port to add a brand new service without significantly increasing employee workload
  3. The new reservation system was deployed in one day.

Lessons Learned

  1. The functionality the Port used for their reservation system was built into their CivicEngage website solution
  2. Activating the reservation system cost nothing additional to the Port-- a good reminder to always check with current partners first before building or buying something new.

Something Unique

“Setting up the ferry system and reservation process was a scramble,” said DeSimone. “We’re grateful that we can use our existing CivicPlus system to meet our needs without having to implement something new that may or may not have integrated with our website. We’re also grateful for the help and support of our technical support and service teams.”

Who Should Consider?

Any municipality or special district of any size that needs a fully functional website with built-in features that address the common citizen self-service needs of the public sector.