Exercise looks at possible Coupeville ferry reductions

The potential service reduction was just an exercise to identify ways to cut costs.

Cuts to the Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry route are an option in a very-preliminary budget exercise that Washington State Ferries went through earlier this year in response to revenue decreases from the pandemic.

Gov. Jay Inslee asked officials for a list of $63 million in cost-saving measures. State Ferries submitted the report of potential cuts to the Office of Financial Management in May, along with other state agencies that were directed to do so.

The possible cuts include reduction in ferry services, elimination of routes, the removal of boats from routes and modification of employee schedules.

The Coupeville-Port Townsend route is one of the many routes being considered for one-boat service, and one of the few that could possibly be eliminated altogether.

Other options for potential discontinuation include the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route and Southworth on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route.

But a spokesperson for the ferry system said nothing is set in stone yet, and he wants to reassure people that the Coupeville-Port Townsend route is one of several cuts that may not even occur.

“Just because these things are being talked about doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” said Ian Sterling, the spokesperson for Washington State Ferries.

He said the Coupeville-Port Townsend route was highlighted because of the size of its vessels.

The route has some of the smallest boats in the entire state-wide ferry system.

The route, Sterling said, is one of the lowest performing routes and is “heavily subsidized.”

“It’s hard to make a vessel that only holds 64 cars make a profit,” Sterling said.

Cutting routes and boat services was the quickest way to achieve the $63 million in reductions in the budget exercise, he explained.

Sterling described the list of cuts in the budget exercise as being a “menu of options” for state lawmakers to look at when considering reducing the ferry system’s costs.

“Most of these cuts are probably not going to come to fruition, but there’s no way to know,” Sterling said.

He thinks maybe one or two options might, but not all.

Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, said he wouldn’t support cuts in service on the Coupeville-Port Townsend route, which he said would “devastate Whidbey Island and Jefferson County.”

Paul, who serves on the Transportation Committee, said he doesn’t think there is cause for concern at this point.

“I think there’s a long way to go before we have to worry about the elimination of that ferry service,” he said.