Crew shortages cancel more ferry trips to Washington state

The Christmas holidays and a coronavirus-related staff shortage have cut Washington State Ferries’ service below even the lightened ‘alternate schedules’ created in October, raising questions whether travelers will face long delays getting home. them Sunday and Monday.

The agency’s long-standing crew shortages have been exacerbated by groundbreaking cases of COVID-19, spokeswoman Suanne Pelley said on Saturday. There were 13 reports of ferry workers who tested positive this week and one the week before, she said. These typically lead to a two-week quarantine and notices to colleagues.

In addition, workers took previously scheduled Christmas days off, she said. The ferry system pays overtime and vacation wages, but dispatchers still couldn’t muster enough staff for full service, she said.

Most routes were reduced to a single-boat service on Saturday, meeting minimum “alternate schedules” imposed this fall to deal with crew shortages. The WSF has often been successful in staffing two boats per route in recent weeks and has called these trips “extra”. Not on Saturday.

Drivers were already waiting two hours at the Edmonds and Kingston wharves at noon and two hours at Clinton, for trips to Mukilteo. The delays eased by the end of the afternoon.

Inter-island service in the San Juans was canceled on Saturday. Only two of the four boats had to make the trip between the islands and Anacortes, due to a lack of crew.

And the little Point Defiance-Tahlequah road was canceled. Anyone traveling between Vashon Island and Tacoma had to use the Vashon North Terminal to Fauntleroy or Southworth, then head south. The north-Vashon “triangle” service was already operating with only two boats between three terminals. A medical emergency canceled a trip from Southworth to Vashon at 4:30 p.m.

Ferry officials hope they can relaunch that route by Sunday and aim to bring a third boat back to the San Juans by Monday, Pelley said.

The coronavirus remains a problem, even though ferry workers have been required to get vaccinated since October 18. The retirements (and frequent quarantines) were already shaking the workforce of 1,800 this year, before 22 sailors retired and 129 resigned in October, largely because they opposed Vaccination mandate by Governor Jay Inslee for public officials.

The WSF has increased its pandemic-ravaged training courses in recent months, but long-term solutions are expected to require more operational funding from the legislature, as well as training reforms, promotions and employment contracts, as well as new ships.

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