The M/V Puyallup docks at the Edmonds waterfront on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 in Edmonds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The M/V Puyallup docks at the Edmonds waterfront on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 in Edmonds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Edmonds-Kingston is back to 2 boats, but it’s no ferry tale ending

The state ferry system still faces crew shortages and a diminishing, aging fleet of green-and-white workhorses.

EDMONDS — Two boats are better than one.

Service on the Edmonds-Kingston route was officially restored to two boats this week.

Vessels will depart the docks every 40 to 45 minutes on a voyage with a 30-minute crossing time.

A second boat makes a huge difference. With a single boat crisscrossing the water, wait times can be several hours during non-peak times.

Riders on the Mukilteo-Clinton route haven’t stopped rejoicing since two-boat service was restored in May 2022.

But it’s far from smooth sailing.

Restoration of some routes is delayed. The ferry system was — and is — affected by crew shortages, fewer riders and not enough boats.

“Early in the pandemic, ridership fell dramatically,” said Ian Sterling, Washington State Ferries spokesperson.

It has picked up.

According to a report the agency released this week, March 2020 ridership was down 78% compared to 2019. Vehicle ridership fell by 67%, with walk‐on passenger riders down 93%. Walk-on travel was discouraged, galleys were closed and riders were advised to stay in their cars.

Total system ridership in 2022 rose to about 73% of 2019 pre-COVID numbers, with vehicles climbing to 83% and walk-on customers up to 50% of pre-pandemic levels.

Staffing remains an issue that delays and cancels sailings.

“We are hiring people and getting them trained and out there working,” Sterling said.

The ferry system employs about 1,900 people on vessels, in terminals, management and maintenance. Deck officers and engineers must undergo years of training, certifications and sailing time.

Ideally, the ferry system would have about 200 deck officers, the report stated. As of Feb. 15, 2023, there were 165.

A fleet of 21 green-and-white ferries serves 20 terminals on 10 routes in eight counties.

The boats have 20-hour workdays, which allows little time for maintenance. Eleven of the 21 vessels are over 40 years old, including five over 50.

New boats take multiple years to build, with the next not expected to be completed until 2027.

Some routes are still offering limited service.

The Port Townsend-Coupeville route won’t be restored to full service until 2024, Sterling said.

The Anacortes-Sydney, British Columbia, route was stopped in 2020 due international travel restrictions in the pandemic.

“It was the prettiest route and the longest route,” Sterling said.

State ferry service to Canada is on hold until 2030.

“We don’t have the boats to sail to Canada,” Sterling said. “It’s sad to see it go and is especially disappointing to our Canadian friends.”

Other ferries crossing the border are Seattle’s Victoria Clipper, the Black Ball Ferry Line through the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Port Angeles and Victoria, B.C., and B.C. Ferries connecting Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Brace for waits.

B.C. Ferries said results from the three months ending Dec. 31, 2022, showed vehicle traffic levels hit a record high again as customers revert to pre-pandemic travel patterns.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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