Despite major slashes to service and Whidbey residents bracing for the worst, the first weekend of an abridged ferry schedule saw some pleasant surprises.
Last week, Washington State Ferries announced that the ferry system would be cutting service on routes starting Oct. 16.
The change affects the Clinton-Mukilteo route, which has been reduced to one-boat service.
Yet this past weekend, the ferry system was able to procure a second boat and enough crew members to reinstate some sailings on the route. On Saturday, the second boat was added to the route starting with the 3:05 p.m. departure from Mukilteo. On Sunday, it was added starting with the 8:00 a.m. departure from Mukilteo.
Service was again restored on Monday, beginning with the 11:00 a.m. departure from Clinton.
Ian Sterling, a spokesperson for the ferry system, said it is unknown if the positive trend will continue.
“We’ve committed to this reduced schedule for now that will allow some predictability and reliability,” he said. “If we have the crew, we’re not going to just let them sit there.”
Other routes, such as Seattle-Bainbridge and Edmonds-Kingston, were also able to add an additional boat this weekend.
“Any time we got boats and crews, they’ll be out on the water,” Sterling said.
And if just one boat is running the Clinton-Mukilteo route, he confirmed it will most likely be the 144-car Suquamish.
However, even with this reassurance, the headache continued Tuesday morning with only one boat in service — the 124-car Kitsap.
The events of the past weekend were a drastic change from the previous weekend, when nearly 400 sailings systemwide were canceled due to a shortage of workers. The Clinton-Mukilteo route was hit especially hard Oct. 8-10 and operated with one boat for the duration of the weekend.
Employees protesting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers may be one of the many reasons for the crew shortage, but the ferry system has also blamed a spate of retirements and difficulty recruiting and training new crew members during the pandemic.
As of Monday, Sterling said there were “a couple hundred” Washington State Ferries employees who had not yet submitted proof of valid COVID-19 vaccination. They had until midnight Oct. 18 to show that they were in compliance with the state mandate.
Within the next few days, the number of ferry system employees who will be terminated for not complying will become more clear, Sterling said.