Coders create alternative apps for ferry service

Ferry riders with a knack for coding have created websites and apps dedicated to navigating one of the state’s most scenic routes of travel.

Although the Washington State Department of Transportation has an app with a section dedicated to the ferry system, some have found the app to be lacking a few important features and have set out to create their own version.

Ansel Santosa, a Clinton resident who currently commutes to work in Seattle, created the website Ferry FYI a few years ago after moving to Whidbey Island.

The website relies on Washington State Ferries data, such as information about the sailing schedule and its delays, the capacity of boats and their GPS coordinates on the water. The data is publicly available at no cost.

“That’s really generous of them and that’s the thing that enables this to work,” Santosa said of the ferry system.

In creating Ferry FYI, Santosa was hoping to build a simple website that was “cleaner and easier to use” but also provided additional info, such as predictions about how full a boat will be.

His website does have information for every route in the system. However, Santosa has focused on fine-tuning some features exclusively for the Clinton-Mukilteo route, which he uses most often.

“For our route where we have no reservations and the boat runs every 30 minutes, we don’t care if it’s late much,” he said. “What you really care about is how many people are in line.”

Upon clicking the camera logo on the toolbar near the bottom of the website page, users will find an estimation of cars between ferry cameras for the Clinton-Mukilteo route. Santosa did this by looking at maps and estimating the average size of an American car, but he’s hoping to someday make a more accurate prediction of line length by using computer vision, a field of artificial intelligence.

Since the website has been running for a few years, historical data has allowed it to forecast how busy routes will be. This is another feature that the WSDOT app does not have.

Besides its website format, Ferry FYI can be installed for free as an app on the homescreen of both Apple and Android phones.

“It’s a fun thing to build and I feel like it’s useful to people, and it costs me next to nothing to run it,” Santosa said.

If people enjoy using Ferry FYI, they can consider making a donation to Ballydídean Farm Sanctuary, which Santosa and his wife own.

A denizen of another island has also been working on a similar project, but exclusively in app format.

Jordan Soltman, a Vashon Island resident, has been working on FerryFriend for nearly a decade.

“My main focus was to create something that was extremely easy to use and sort of brings together all of the state data in a format that is much easier to understand, especially for people who are new to the ferries,” he said.

Soltman’s app focuses more on route delay predictions, using an algorithm he developed on his own.

This is an issue Soltman found specific to the Vashon-Fauntleroy route, which he takes to get to the mainland.

FerryFriend stores tickets, as well as route reservations and a more digestible format of the ferry schedule.

Soltman intends to keep the app free, although he might implement a donation model at some point to help cover the costs.

“I hate advertising so much, more than anything,” he said. “I want it to be free, I want it to be accessible to everyone.”

Currently the app, which has been downloaded over 16,000 times, is only available on Apple’s operating system. Soltman and a small team are working together to develop a version for Android. He expects that it will be ready around October.

Santosa said he was inspired by Soltman’s rendition of an app for the ferry system.

“Ever since I discovered Jordan’s app a couple weeks ago, I’ve been more interested in adding some features and updates,” Santosa said, adding that Soltman’s feature for scanning and saving tickets is an amazing idea. “His app is super cool.”

Although it’s outside of his comfort zone since he mostly works with developing websites, Santosa said he might some day consider making an app version of Ferry FYI.

Future updates to Ferry FYI may include better line predictions, a personalized alert notification system and a way to look at future sailing schedules.