MR. WATERHOUSE: Good afternoon, distinguished Board members. My name is John Waterhouse. I am president of Elliot Bay Design Group, a naval architectural and marine engineering firm in Seattle, and by profession I am a designer of passenger vessels.
My company has extensive experience in the design and construction of a wide range of passenger vessels, and I also had the privilege of serving as a member of the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee that developed the recommendations which were presented to the Access Board in late 2000. Since that time we've worked with a number of clients to improve passenger access on board their vessels.
The majority of this work has involved large and small cruise ships and both car ferries and passenger-only ferries. Some of these projects have been designing new vessels. Most have dealt with existing ships. In general, we've found the draft guidelines to be reasonable producing vessels that are better for all passengers, albeit at an increased cost.
Today I want to voice the concerns of one of our major customers, Washington State Ferries. Washington State Ferries carries over 13 million passengers a year. They are, I believe, the largest ferry operator in the United States, and as a company they are committed to making their vessels accessible. However, they're also faced with the reality of a fleet of over 20 vessels ranging in age from 70 years to less than 10 years old.
As Washington State Ferries has worked to make these vessels accessible, they often deal with issues of readily achievable barrier removal and requirements that are technically infeasible. When the alteration is complete, they're subject to criticisms as to how well they've met the challenge and even whether meeting the guidelines provides sufficient access.
Today I want to emphasize that the agency responsible for enforcement of the final guidelines must understand the design and construction of passenger vessels. For both new construction and for vessel alterations, the marine industry needs to work with an agency that understands our constraints and challenges. As others have pointed out, boats are not buildings. As we alter our existing fleet, we need assurance that the new construction guidelines will be used to inspire our operators and designers and not shackle them with unrealistic expectations.
Washington State Ferries is preparing extensive written comment on the draft guidelines and that we look forward to jointly creating the standards that benefit our customers and that properly reflect the marine environment. Thank you.