MUKILTEO — Prepare to get ferry frustrated.
Starting Saturday, service will go to one boat instead of two on the busy Edmonds-Kingston and Mukilteo-Clinton routes due to a lack of workers.
Officials with Washington State Ferries and Gov. Jay Inslee said the slashed schedule affecting routes statewide is temporary, but didn’t define how long temporary is.
They blame crew shortages on an aging workforce, COVID-19 cases, quarantines and fewer skilled workers.
And there’s the governor’s COVID vaccine mandate. State agency workers must be fully vaccinated against the virus by Monday.
“There are around 1,900 employees total. The vast majority have gone through the process and are validated,” ferry spokesman Ian Sterling said. “About 200 have not completed the process as of today.”
Last weekend, ferry riders got a taste of what’s to come when Edmonds-Kingston and Mukilteo-Clinton sailings were cut in half. About one-third of all sailings in the ferry system were abruptly reduced without warning last Friday morning. This resulted in long lines and wait times of several hours. Service was restored by Sunday on some routes.
“We believe one of the problems was people wanted to demonstrate their displeasure with this requirement and so they were unwilling to come to work,” Inslee said in a Thursday news conference.
That led leaders of the ferry system, the largest in North America, to take action.
“We didn’t want that to happen again this weekend,” Inslee said.
Sailings have been cancelled sporadically since the pandemic started. Sterling has repeatedly stated that people should not expect normal ferry service during this ongoing public health emergency.
At least this time there is notice, so tourists can plan their travel. Commuters at the mercy of the ferry system — well, they just have to chagrin and bear it.
On the Mukilteo-Clinton route, sailings will be hourly, compared with every 30 minutes before. Edmonds-Kingston service will run every 90 minutes.
These are two of the state’s busiest routes.
On other routes: Seattle-Bainbridge and Seattle-Bremerton will each go to one boat sailings instead of two. Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth will operate with a two-boat schedule instead of three. Anacortes-San Juan Islands will have three boats and suspend vehicle reservations. Port Townsend-Coupeville will continue one-boat service with vehicle reservations.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked hard to maintain reliable service, completing the vast majority of sailings,” Patty Rubstello, head of the ferry system, said in a news release. “However, to better reflect the service we can currently provide and to minimize last-minute cancellations due to a lack of crew, we made this difficult decision to adjust our schedules.”
The agency is recruiting new employees and searching for qualified mariners nationwide.
A good way to keep updated with schedules is the WSDOT app. It has real-time data and cameras. You might even see your car at the back, or front, of the line.
Herald reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.