Worker shortage, limited capacity new norm for ferries

Ferry riders frustrated by the lengthy wait times this past weekend for the Clinton-Mukilteo route should anticipate that things might not get much better this summer.

Ian Sterling, communication spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, said many of the other ferry routes have been operating at limited capacity, and the Clinton-Mukilteo and Edmonds-Kingston routes are finally beginning to feel the pain.

Last weekend, the Clinton-Mukilteo route ran with only one boat due to a worker shortage, causing multiple hours in wait times.

“No transportation agency is running a full schedule now, and that includes us,” Sterling said.

Usually the Bainbridge-Seattle route is the busiest, but weekend demand has kept climbing on the Clinton-Mukilteo route since Mother’s Day weekend.

About 100 to 150 ferry crew members are categorized as high risk and as a result, haven’t been able to work because of their age or underlying health conditions. The ferry system has been struggling to find workers to fill their places.

“One person can keep a vessel from sailing,” Sterling said. “There are no extra bodies there to fall back.”

It’s unclear yet whether weekends on Whidbey will continue to have only one boat in operation, but he said it is unlikely passengers will see service levels pre-COVID for the foreseeable future.

“People should really ask themselves if they need to be on that boat or not,” Sterling said. “And they should be prepared to wait longer. It’s not normal times.”