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Interim Washington State Ferries director fires back at criticism

A combination of missed sailings, mechanical issues and overloaded boats has made for a rough summer for the Washington state ferry system.

Last Friday, nearly 500 fans had to be kicked off a boat when too many passengers were allowed to load.

There have also been mechanical issues, a high-ranking executive placed on leave without a given reason, and missed runs because of a lack of employees to staff the boat. All this while the state still can’t find anyone to lead the Washington State Ferries system.

From the outside, this agency looks as dysfunctional and poorly run as one could imagine. But the WSF interim director, Captain George Capacci, said that’s simply not the case.

“I think it is an easy target and I don’t think the criticism is fair,” he said. “Can we do better? Of course we can, and we always try to do better. I think we are providing great service.”

Captain Capacci has the stats to back that statement up: 99.5 percent efficiency on sailings. There were 163,000 scheduled sailings last year. The system had to cancel 516. The majority of those were for unscheduled maintenance of an aging fleet of boats, while 99 were scrapped because the boats didn’t have enough people to operate.

Captain Capacci said the system needs help from the legislature to help fund more staff. Right now, if only one or two people call in sick on the same day there can be a ripple effect that keeps boats at the dock. That’s the biggest challenge to the system, he said.

“A sports analogy is perfect. Our farm league and our bench system needs to be bolstered.”

Capacci hopes to hire enough new workers that a sick day by one person won’t cripple the system.

He also wishes the public could understand just what it takes to keep this system running and see the hard work being put in every day.

“They don’t see what goes on underneath to keep the ships running and to keep them properly crewed and operating safely for our customers day in and day out, 365 days a year,” Capacci said.

The system runs 450 trips a day, carrying about 60,000 passengers.

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