Washington ferry service begins climb back toward pre-COVID levels

Aug 21, 2020, 6:27 AM

Kingston residents are getting some relief, after suffering through another summer of being trapped in their homes due to long ferry lines.

Washington ferry ridership craters amid coronavirus crisis

It’s been worse this year, because the Edmonds-Kingston run has been down a boat because of the pandemic. That changes Saturday.

Two-boat service is finally coming back to the Edmonds-Kingston and Mukilteo-Clinton ferry routes. Both runs have been down a boat for two months, without enough crew available to man a second one.

“Things will be back to basically pre-COVID levels,” the ferry service’s Ian Sterling said. “We hope that this helps people out.”

More than 100 ferry and dock workers have been reassigned since the pandemic hit because of underlying health conditions, or being in other high-risk categories. Some of them are coming back. A new crop of workers is also coming online.

Sixteen new crew members and 10 terminal workers have been able to finish up their mandatory training that had been hampered by COVID restrictions. Sterling said they hope to add back a second boat to the Seattle-Bainbridge run next week.

Overall, Sterling said ridership is starting to come back too, though walk-on passengers are still way down.

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“Early on in the pandemic, our ridership really dropped off a cliff,” he said. “It went down about 70% overall, for walk-on passengers we were down 90%; that has recovered. We are down 40 to 50%.”

And while that’s good news for riders today, the ferry service is facing significant long-term problems, many of which are not new.

“We’re still short people,” Sterling said. “Ridership is still down. In some cases, we were up against a maintenance backlog because the shipyards were shut down due to COVID, and of course funding is always a concern. Short-term we’re alright; long-term it is going to continue to be a major challenge for us.”

It’s not cheap to run ferry services, and long-term funding has been a concern for years. The lack of revenue from the lack of passengers this year is really going to be a problem going forward.

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Washington ferry service begins climb back toward pre-COVID levels