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Washington ferries seeing increased delays

A white and green Washington State ferry underway with tree-covered land and Mt. Rainier behind it.
Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
WSF attributes the lower on-time performance to a staffing shortage and a higher number of passengers on busy routes.

SEATTLE (AP) — An analysis of Washington State Ferries data shows ferries are running behind schedule this year more than they have in the past decade, with a consistent decline in on-time performance.

Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling told The Seattle Times that every summer, with 50% more passengers traveling by ferry, it is not unusual to see a dip in on-time performance from June to September.

But the delays are more pronounced this year and passengers on the Anacortes/San Juans route are particular problems, according to WSF data.

While this route usually records more delays than others, in June, nearly half of all sailings on this route ran behind schedule. The newspaper reports this is a 40 percentage-point gap from WSF’s target to run on time for 95% of trips.

WSF attributes the lower on-time performance to a staffing shortage and a higher number of passengers on busy routes.

On weekends, especially holiday weekends like Labor Day, passengers on popular tourist routes such as Anacortes/San Juans and Port Townsend/Coupeville are more likely to face delays on Thursday and Friday afternoon leaving the Seattle area and returning on Sunday and Monday afternoon.

As of July this year, WSF had a 6% decline in staffing since 2019, when it was running at full capacity. There is a shortage of more than 100 people in the agency.

Hires in the last month have brought the gap down to 4%. Still, it will be some time before the new hires are fully trained to help plug staffing shortages.

Currently WSF’s biggest staffing shortage is in the engine room — the department has 45 fewer engineers — a decline of over 10% from 2019, when it was operating at full capacity.

WSF’s slow replacement of its aging staff also extends to the deck crew, which is needed to run sailings. Since 2017, 66 captains and 24 mates have left WSF. Over 80% were retirements.

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