The state’s Bremerton-Seattle ferry run has been without a second vessel since since fall 2021, and it appears that it will be some time, years even, before Washington State Ferries will fully bring back that service to pre-pandemic levels.
In a new report released Thursday, the agency pointed to crew and vessel availability as barriers to additional service. The agency has previously offered rough estimates for continued service restoration but in the new report acknowledged that further progress would not come soon.
“Now, as more years separate us from the pandemic and WSF better understands some of the systemic challenges related to crew and vessel availability, it’s clear it will take longer to restore all routes to full service,” the report, titled the “Washington State Ferries Service Contingency Plan,” said.
While the agency said that it expects crew levels to continue to climb over the next 18-24 months, it said that vessel constraints would likely continue until new vessels join the fleet.
“Until both new vessels and sufficient crew are available, WSF can reliably operate 15 vessels in service as a baseline,” the report said. Under that fleet configuration, service on the Bremerton-Seattle, Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth, Port Townsend-Coupeville and Anacortes-Sidney routes would remain at below pre-pandemic levels.
“WSF currently does not anticipate full, permanent restoration of service on domestic routes until new vessels start entering the fleet in 2028,” the agency said. “Full, permanent service restoration may be gradual and will remain dependent on vessel availability. Restoration of international service to Sidney, British Columbia, is projected for 2030.”
The agency offered a glimmer of hope about some limited restored service, saying that there would be times, “often entire seasons,” when it had both the crew and vessels to operate additional service above its 15-vessel baseline in the coming years. Were that to be the case, it said, the prioritization for adding service would be:
- Adding a third vessel at Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth
- Adding a second vessel at Seattle-Bremerton
- Adding a second vessel (shoulder/summer only) at Port Townsend-Coupeville
The agency has said that it intends to award one or two contracts for building the next set of state ferries this summer, with the intent of speeding up delivery by allowing two vessels to be built at the same time. If the state awarded two contracts, the agency said in a request for information document released in December, its desired delivery dates for its next five vessels would be two in February 2028, two in January 2029 and a fifth in January 2030.