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'I hate it': Riders of Washington State Ferries frustrated with reduced sailings, crew shortages

Washington State Ferries will be reducing sailings starting this weekend on nearly all of its routes to make schedules more reliable for riders.

EDMONDS, Wash — People who ride Washington State Ferries (WSF), whether it's for work or fun, will need to pack their patience as the agency prepares to drastically reduce sailings starting this weekend. 

WSF plans to reduce sailings on nearly all of its routes starting Oct. 16 due to "severe" staffing shortages brought on by COVID-19 cases, quarantines and a shortage of qualified maritime workers as many WSF staff retire.

Riders who frequent the ferries said waiting hours in line is becoming a necessary evil.

"At least I can work in my car, but I'd still like to be on the boat as fast as possible," said Jill Bagwell, as she waited to board the boat from Edmonds to Kingston, Thursday.

System-wide crew shortages have plagued the state ferry system since earlier this year. The cancellations of hundreds of sailings, even in the last two weeks, has stranded countless passengers and left riders with few options. 

"I hate it. It's really annoying," said Jacob Stickler of Hansville.

WSF officials announced the reduced sailings on Wednesday and said the cuts are intended, "to give customers as much reliability as possible and minimize unplanned, missed sailings." 

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Nearly every route will be down at least one boat to accommodate the dwindling number of crew members. The only crossings not impacted by the new cuts are Point Defiance and Port Townsend. 

The trade-off for riders will be predictability, but fewer boats and likely longer lines, which could be even worse on weekends and holidays. 

"I'm gonna be buying a few hotel rooms form time to time where I normally wouldn't have to," said Ian Lindsay, who travels from Poulsbo to the mainland several times a week for work. "That's gonna be an extra $300 or $400 doing the walk-on because I can't get here early enough."

"It's kind of a no-win situation," said Rick Hughes, a former Ferry Advisory Committee member from Orcas Island.

He's worried about food getting to island grocery stores as well as people getting to medical appointments. 

At this point, Hughes said he believes the issue goes far beyond just crew shortages to a legislature that has neglected the ferry system for decades.

"If it wasn't this labor issue it's gonna be something right behind that. We've got duct tape on the ferry system," said Hughes. "The problem is ferries haven't been fully invested in for the past 20 or 30 years."

The plan for reduced sailings comes as the deadline for Gov. Jay Inslee's COVID-19 vaccine mandate is set to take effect on Monday, Oct. 18, which could bring further crew shortages for WSF. 

As of Thursday, approximately 200 ferry workers had still not provided proof of their vaccination status. 

Recent sick calls, believed to be in protest of the mandate, have paralyzed the system for entire days. Last week, just 28 sick calls canceled more than 150 ferry crossings.

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