Temporary ferry service cuts begin Saturday

Big headaches are on the way for ferry commuters, with service temporarily dropping by half on the busiest routes after dozens of sailings were canceled because of a lack of crew.

A shortage of maritime workers, plus people out with COVID-19 or exposures, has been a problem for months.

Now, with Governor Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate for state workers taking effect Monday, the system could be even more understaffed.

As of Thursday morning, officials said 86 percent of Washington State Ferries employees had validated vaccinations or approved exemptions.

Last Friday, 28 people called in sick at the last minute.

While that’s a small percentage of the 600 needed to run the boats any day, with few backup workers, sailings were canceled around the system.

“We believe some of the problem was people who wanted to demonstrate their displeasure with this requirement,” Inslee said Thursday.

To avoid more surprise cancelations, Washington State Ferries is cutting service beginning Saturday.

It’s a temporary reduction with no end date.

Instead of two ferries each, only one boat will run on each of the busiest routes — Seattle-Bainbridge Island, Mukilteo-Clinton and Edmonds-Kingston.

The Vashon-Fauntleroy-Southworth route will have service reduced from three boats to two.

The Anacortes-San Juan Islands route will be down to three boats.

The Seattle-Bremerton route was already reduced to a single boat because of crew problems.

Inslee said the ferry system will try to add back runs from day to day if there are enough workers.

That’s why commuters will want to keep a close eye on their routes, in case the service cuts turn out to be less severe than expected.