San Juan County Council briefed on ferry updates

Submitted by San Juan County.

Ahead of the busy, upcoming holiday season, members of San Juan County’s Council met with Washington State officials and representatives from the Washington State Ferries to express islanders’ need for reliable ferry service.

SJC Councilmembers Jamie Stephens and Cindy Wolf joined Representative Debra Lekanoff, the Washington State Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar, WSF Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello, Director of Marine Operations, Steve Nevey, and Director of Planning, Customer and Government Relations John Vezina, about developments in WSF services and operations.

“We’re so grateful to Rep. Lekanoff for organizing this meeting because we were able to give folks a clearer understanding of the importance of the interisland run,” said councilmember Wolf.

WSF reported there were 45 cancellations of San Juan Islands route sailings in the span of two weeks – which falls 3% short of their goal of 99% reliability. Attendees discussed ways to be more efficient in notifying riders of cancellations and working together to ensure islanders have enough time to make other arrangements. The importance of the interisland route was emphasized.

“These cancellations affect working families, school children, government operations, social services, sheriff operations, and more,” said councilmember Wolf. “It impacts our ability to do business as a community when small tradespeople can lose 20% of their income for a week when the interisland is canceled.”

WSF committed to working with Rep. Lekanoff and SJC Council on better notification strategies. A committee consisting of elected officials and local chambers of commerce is one proposed solution that might support the San Juan Islands and Anacortes Ferry Advisory Committees

WSF anticipates that their increased focus on recruitment and employee education will bring relief to the system by the summer of 2023. They expect less cancellations due to staffing shortages.

“I was glad to hear they are reviewing the dwell time,” said councilmember Stephens. “Understanding the time it takes to load and unload boats – especially during the summer – is key to keeping the boats on schedule.”

Earlier this year, WSF created two new programs that encourage current employees to take the necessary courses and exams to obtain a mates’ credential. Over the next 18 months, they expect more than 40 to complete all the training and credentials necessary to work as mates – which will support future system stability. They’ll be working with Governor Inslee and the legislature to make these programs permanent.