Things have been looking up for the Washington State Ferry system — the inter island boat is back and all four boats have the ability to be fully crewed for a regular winter schedule in the San Juans.
“They hope to be able to continue that, but crew availability remains an ongoing challenge,” said Jim Corenman, Chair of the San Juan Islands Ferry Advisory Committee.
The San Juan routes are prioritized while every other route in the system continues to be downsized, mostly running on a single-boat service.
One challenge that continues to impact staffing is that even though all WSF is fully vaccinated, breakthroughs have been occurring. When one ferry worker tests positive, their work mates also have to quarantine, causing WSF to lose groups of employees.
In the meantime, new reservations are still suspended in order to ensure everyone with an existing reservation is accommodated. One of the biggest issues the ferry faces is getting large trucks on the boats with the reservations.
“If they don’t get on, then we don’t eat,” Corenman said of the trucks. “The folks who run the local markets are extraordinarily resourceful but they are not magicians. And tall-space reservations are all at once, no second and third chance, and nothing held back for tall-space standby.”
The ferry schedule directly impacts the shelves of island grocery stores, putting the islands in an especially vulnerable spot compared to the other ferry-accessible locations, of which many are also accessible by roads.
“The reason that the San Juan Islanders are prioritized is that we’re islands and completely dependent on ferries,” Corenman said. “The fact that we are within reaching distance of full service, given the challenges facing WSF, is a huge change from where we were even a year ago.”