Ferry cancellations, delays causing frustration among island residents

Jun 2, 2023, 3:54 PM

Ferry cancellations ferries next...

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Island resident Valerie McKnight said she’s frustrated with the Washington State Ferry system because of hefty delays and daily cancellations. Businesses are suffering because tourists can’t get to the islands on time — or at all — and she said something has to be done.

Over Memorial Day weekend, one busy ferry run was down to one boat for five hours while many other cancellations affecting the San Juan Islands occurred, leaving passengers stranded on Friday Harbor overnight with hardly any accommodations on the island.

WA ferry system peak season surcharges

“You can be in line at 7 to get on the 8 a.m. off-island ferry,” McKnight said. “Well, you get your car in line. Once you’re in line, you’re boxed in. You can’t just change your mind. So if you’re already in line, and they say, ‘it’s canceled, you’re not going to be on for three, four hours.’ Now you’re stuck there with nothing to do. You can’t just run home. Your car is in the line.”

She went on to share her story and others about missing medical and dental appointments due to ferry delays.

“If I have anything off-island, I go the day before, which means I have to incur a hotel stay,” she said. “Because you have to hedge your bets. We had to cancel plans to visit friends over in Orcas. It’s like going to the next town, like going to Redmond from Seattle, but couldn’t do it because the inner island ferries were canceled. It’s not just rich tourists that are being affected. There are people that live on other islands that work in Friday Harbor and vice versa. One gal was stuck on Orcas at work for two days because there was no inter-island ferry. There’s nothing you can do. You’re just stuck.

“There are businesses that gear up!” McKnight continued. “There was a restaurant right by the ferries. She prepared lots of food [on Saturday]. It’s Memorial Day weekend. But nobody came over on the ferry that morning. It’s just devastating to people.”

McKnight wanted to know why can Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg make concessions for people that are delayed by the airlines, but not the ferry system. And then she talked about the broken down old ferry boats that are 50 years old.

“They build cruise ships in a couple of years,” McKnight added. “Huge ships and have them out in service, but we can’t get new ferries? So it’s either mechanical breakdowns, mostly it’s crew shortages.”

More from Micki Gamez: Federal Way Link light rail extension delayed until 2026

Washington State Ferry spokesperson Ian Sterling told KIRO Newsradio that the ferry service should be better this summer than it was last year.

Follow Micki Gamez on Twitter or email her here

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Ferry cancellations, delays causing frustration among island residents