Local, Open And Independent - An Illustration


“More than 2,500 steamships navigated from port to port around Puget Sound from 1850’s to the 1930’s. They were so numerous that people said they resembled a 'swarm of mosquitos.'

Nearly everything moved by water transport. Steam vessels, large and small, moved settlers, farm produce and livestock, machinery, troops, timber, tourists, mail and everything else needed to build and serve towns at and near the water’s edge. Every settlement, no matter how small, had a pier, dock or float. These “whistle stops” were their link to the greater community.

… Completion of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 1935 released a fleet of diesel-electric auto ferries that came north to replace the remaining Mosquito Fleet vessels. The last scheduled run occurred in 1939."

I found this system description in the Port Townsend historical museum. Rarely do you see such a perfect example of the power of local, open and decentralized organization. The Salish Sea Mosquito Fleet, described above, is just such an example. This fleet of independent mariners provided seamless water taxi service from Olympia all the way to Vancouver.

There were many boats and many captains, there just was no bureaucracy. You hailed a vessel when you needed it. Went as a passenger over to the next port, or across the sea. With so many ships going in so many directions, over and over, you always found a timely ride and you always got to you destination. This mosquito fleet used the Salish Sea as its road system and connected all of the large, and small, communities in our coastal region.

In every dimension you could measure - speed, convenience, energy efficiency, breadth - the mosquito fleet was superior to centrally managed ferries. The only real benefit of the centralized system was the 'feeling' of an assured schedule. You could feel like there was 2:00 pm sailing to Friday Harbor that arrive at 3:20. But as we all know, this was never a real schedule - the centralized system still suffers from storms, breakdowns and a whole manner of delays. But the feeling of certainty that comes from a fixed schedule apparently wins out over all the other benefits of a local, open and independent network.

It is our contention that the ONLY reason these centralized solutions have proliferated is because they offer a single point of control.


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