CHOKEPOINTS

Washington State Ferries to slowly start returning normal service this week

Nov 16, 2021, 6:17 AM
ferry...
Onboard a ferry from Edmonds to Kingston. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

Ferry riders have been struggling with a reduced sailing schedule for about a month now, but there could be some service improvements coming.

Is it time to sell Washington ferry naming rights to raise money?

The ferry system went to a reduced sailing schedule because it got tired of canceling trips at the last minute because of crewing shortages. The plan was to provide a schedule that the ferry service could deliver reliably, so riders would have some confidence that a boat would be waiting when they got to the terminal. That cut down on the crewing shortage issues.

Ferry service head Patty Rubstello told the Senate Transportation Committee that this new reduced schedule has worked. Those last minute cancelations have dropped significantly since the middle of October, when 341 sailings were canceled because of a lack of crew.

“With the change in our service plan, we only missed eight (in the rest of October), and the promise we have made is if we can crew additional service out there, we will,” she said. “We’ve been successfully been doing that since then.”

Rubstello said the agency has also made some changes with the labor groups representing their ferry workers to keep the staffing issues to a minimum. Under the old rules, the workers stayed with their boat or their route. Not anymore.

“Deck crews stayed on a route, and engine room staff would stay with the vessel,” she said. “We now have the ability to move people around where we need them the most.”

So vessels can now mix and match workers to fill shifts, which is good news for ferry riders. Rubstello said they plan to use this new model to slowly return to full or normal operations across the system.

“To use that flexibility to return service, first in Anacortes/San Juans, and then incrementally bring service on to the other routes,” she said.

As Rubstello said, the focus is on the San Juans first, since those riders have no other options. That slow return to service is set to begin this week.

As for the rest of the system, here is the order for returning service: Seattle/Bainbridge, Mukilteo/Clinton, Edmonds/Kingston, followed by the Vashon Triangle and finally the Seattle/Bremerton run later this week.

And this is a pilot project, not a firm guarantee. The last thing Rubstello wants to do is make promises to riders that she can’t back up. She will assess how it goes on the island runs before making any firm commitments.

To reset the table on how we got here: There is a national shortage of maritime workers, and Washington State Ferries also lost over 100 employees over the October COVID vaccine mandate.

Rubstello told the Senate committee she has a plan to step up recruiting and retention efforts to attract candidates to the state. She has also hired a new outside recruiter. Rubstello plans to go to the legislature to get more funding to boost ferry worker pay, and says she will lobby for a new dispatch system and push for new funding options to help make up the overall budget shortfall coming out of the pandemic.

Gov. Inslee hopes state lawmakers will ‘be more attentive’ to ferry system’s needs

The ferry system has already hired 167 new employees this year.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

Chokepoints

West Seattle Bridge...
Chris Sullivan

20 months into the closure, workers return to West Seattle Bridge

Workers finally returned to the closed West Seattle Bridge on Monday, promising to have it open to the public by the middle of 2022.
1 day ago
Tow truck drivers...
Chris Sullivan

Washington tow truck drivers beg state lawmakers for more protection on roads

Tow truck drivers are begging the state Legislature for more protection after a deadly year on Washington's roads.
7 days ago
light rail...
Chris Sullivan

Light rail trains finally testing on East Link tracks

Light rail cars are running on the East Link tracks in the first phase of systems integration testing before service begins in 2023.
19 days ago
WSDOT, roads...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT workforce shortage could mean more closed roads this winter

The vaccine mandate and a global lack of workers is expected to impact the state's ability to clear the snow from roads and keep the mountain passes open.
21 days ago
I-5 JBLM traffic...
Chris Sullivan

Improvements to I-5 through JBLM have been ‘game-changer’ for congestion

A new HOV lane on I-5 through JBLM has led to across-the-board decreases in congestion along what's historically been a problematic roadway.
26 days ago
tolls, good to go, toll rate, WSDOT...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT stepping up its game with revamped website

This weekend, the Washington State Department of Transportation will unveil its new website, promising a much more user-friendly experience.
28 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]
...

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Washington State Ferries to slowly start returning normal service this week