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Washington sees more than 20,000 fewer ferry sailings in 2021 than pre-pandemic

The system served more than 17 million passengers through the entire year, an annual increase of over 3 million.

SEATTLE — Despite an annual increase in ridership in 2021, Washington State Ferries (WSF) operated about 22,000 fewer sailings compared to 2019.

It was more than 1,400 fewer sailings than 2020.

Yet, 2021’s annual ridership rebounded by nearly 3.3 million travelers, totaling more than 17 million customers with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and an uptick in tourism.

It was WSF’s largest year-over-year increase in ridership ever recorded, bringing it to nearly 75% of pre-pandemic levels.

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Meanwhile, the biggest impact and driver of fewer sailings was staffing, according to a WSF spokesperson. Even now with the latest omicron variant wreaking havoc across the country, dozens of WSF employees are out for COVID-related issues.

The issue is similar to what the airline industry is seeing, along with numerous others, amid the highly contagious variant.

Still, the trend is positive for WSF ridership, which had vehicle traffic up to 85% of pre-pandemic levels and walk-on riders up to 42% of pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re in the process of planning our service restoration efforts as we continue to aggressively recruit, hire and train new employees,” said WSF Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello. “Pandemic-related vessel crewing challenges and the temporary loss of one of our biggest ferries due to an engine room fire were two major service obstacles for us in 2021.”

The Seattle/Bainbridge Island route, the system’s most popular, had the largest increase year-to-year, with a jump of 44% in riders.

Even the smallest increase in ridership was in the double digits, with the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route up 13%.

2021 was also only the second year in the system’s 60-year existence that it saw more vehicle passengers than walk-on passengers. The first year was 2020.


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