Heads of state issued statement on ferry disruptions
Submitted by the Delegation of the 40th arrondissement.
Washington State Ferries, being our state’s marine highway system and the only transportation option available to most residents of San Juan County, is in dire straits.
The unprecedented frequency of service disruptions experienced by passengers, whether due to severely delayed departures or cancellations, has been and continues to be unacceptable. While these problems have been particularly serious this summer, Islanders know all too well that these problems existed long before the pandemic. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problems of an already stressed system.
As your representatives, we have sounded the alarm bells with our parliamentary colleagues, many of whom do not represent the districts served by the ferries. Our message to them was simple and straightforward: it’s not a matter of inconvenience – it’s a matter of livelihood and whether or not people can make it to doctor’s appointments. , get to work, get food for their families, and access other essential travel.
Availability of the vessel
The passage of I-695 in 1999 resulted in a loss for the WSF of approximately 25% of its dedicated operating budget and 75% of its dedicated capital. Therefore, no new ships were built for an entire decade, 2000-2010. This construction drought overwhelmed the WSF with an aging fleet.
The 2040 Long Term Plan strategy calls for a robust replacement of vessels over the next 19 years to maintain current service levels. In addition, the WSF has always been underfunded for vital ship maintenance and preservation work. With a fleet comprising five boats over 40 years old, two over 50 years old and one vessel 62 years old, the importance of routine and funded preservation work cannot be overstated.
The fleet needs 18 vessels to operate at current service levels (due to border closure, taking a boat from the San Juan Islands route this summer), but has been reduced to 15. This has resulted in reductions – fewer ships or smaller ships on six routes.
First of all, we thank our frontline and essential WSF workers who have continued to show up every day during this pandemic and work overtime to ensure our ferry system is operating to the best of its ability.
We recognize that labor shortages have remained a significant challenge for the WSF and have strained the entire system and put workers in dire straits. Due to increased retirements, physical distancing requirements initially limiting WSF training capacity for new hires, quarantines due to COVID cases and contacts, adherence to mandated crew levels by the US Coast Guard was an added challenge.
Due to the nature of this specialized work, the WSF must tap into a more limited pool of applicants than most other state agencies, as the crews of WSF ships are maritime professionals accredited by the United States Coast Guard. And again, because the WSF is only funded at the minimum crew level, if a single crew member, for example, was stuck in traffic on the way to work, sick, or delayed for any another reason, the vessel would not be able to navigate.
Our ferry system could not function without the hard work and dedication of its employees.
Ferries are our top priority in the transport budget. We have created a formal Ferry Caucus within the Legislature to better organize and advocate for desperately needed funding to replace our aging fleet, minimize service disruptions and improve overall service.
We will also work to end the WSF’s seasonal hiring practices of raising the summer just to decrease a few months later and instead advocating for more sustainable and living wage employment opportunities for our working families. We believe this will lead to greater retention and overall savings if we retain staff year round.
We remain steadfast in our goal of adequately funding the construction of hybrid-electric vessels. Current transportation funding proposals to the legislature include the construction of four additional hybrid-electric Olympic-class ships over the next 16 years, with a first already funded. While this is a promising start, it is far from necessary: the WSF’s long-term plan calls for the construction of 16 ships over the next 19 years.
Our commitment to this end is unwavering as we seek to right the ship and provide the support our constituents rightly deserve, and the ferry system urgently needs.
As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please do not hesitate to come back to our offices.