A week of busy holiday travel started off badly for Washington State Ferries (WSF), which has been struggling with service reliability and public confidence for the last several months. An error within the dispatch office at WSF in Seattle caused four sailings to be cancelled. That left hundreds of people between Mukilteo and Whidbey Island late for work and appointments.

My daughter, my cousin and several neighbors were late to work because of this morning's cancellation. I'm (mad) about it as well as everyone else, said one ferry rider.

The 5:10 am and 6:00 am sailings from Clinton were cancelled due to the error as well as the 5:35 am and 6:30 am runs from Mukilteo.

We are investigating the incident and it appears to be dispatch error-the relief employee was not assigned by dispatch. Please note that this is still under investigaiotn per WSF's procedure and the appropriate action will be taken, said Marta Coursey, Director of Communications, WSF.

Cancellations and late departures due to staffing issues have been a hot button topic for WSF and the public since spring of this year. That s when manning levels were reduced on several boats as a cost saving measure. After that, a record number of sailings were late or cancelled most often due to employees not showing up for work. Other times it was a dispatcher making an error such as telling a relief deckhand to report to the wrong route.

Spike in cancellations due to staffing problems

The spike in these sorts of cancellations or late sailings was drastic compared with the two previous years.

* 2010 37
* 2011 27
* 2012 117

The 22 day run of no staffing issues was the best since May. The stretch began just as the Coast Guard announced manning levels needed to go up on several boats for safety reasons. The staffing has not increased yet, but WSF is working to add the extra staff members by the end of this month.

Cancellations by run

Here is a breakdown of how many late or cancelled sailings have taken place in 2012 due to staffing issues by runs:

* Seattle/Bainbridge - 0
* Kingston/Edmonds 2
* Seattle/Bremerton 9
* Fauntleroy/Vashon 13
* Port Townsend/Coupeville 16
* Clinton/Mukilteo 18
* San Juans 27
* Pt. Defiance/Tahlequah - 32

Boats juggled while Walla Walla repaired

Monday s cancellations added to an already complicated day at State Ferries. Beginning today WSF had to move boats around to accommodate the Walla Walla being out of service for an indefinite amount of time to repair a destroyed drive motor. That means passengers on two routes, Seattle/Bremerton and Kingston/Edmonds, will see longer waits during busy times while smaller boats fill in for the Walla Walla.

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