The head of the Washington State Ferry system is promising to do whatever necessary to fix staffing problems after crew shortages led to 31 canceled trips over the weekend.
It's been an ongoing problem since the Coast Guard increased staffing requirements for the system.
"We have not yet been able to sufficiently train additional people so we are really right on the margin on all of our staffing levels," said Assistant Secretary David Moseley. "We have enough people, but if anyone calls in sick or late it causes staffing problems."
The staffing requirements mean the ferry system must cancel sailings if too many crew members call in sick or need to take unscheduled time off because relief staff are already stretched to the max during the busy summer season.
Just last weekend, the ferry system canceled 17 trips on the Vashon-Southworth-Fauntleroy run, and 14 more on the Tahlequah-Point Defiance route.
Moseley says the system will increase training as soon as the summer season ends a week from Sunday, when the number of sailings is reduced for the fall. And while it will take some time, he promises many of the problems that have plagued the system the past two years should be ironed out before next summer.
"The reliability of our service to our customers is absolutely essential. It's frustrating, it's unfortunate and we're going to do everything that we can to ensure that we don't have a continuation of this. It's a problem that we can fix and we will fix."
In the meantime, he apologizes to ferry passengers and insists it is a top priority, with its $3.4 million biennial training budget being redistributed to emphasize getting more entry-level deckhands qualified to meet Coast Guard requirements.