Ferry ridership rises to 82% of pre-pandemic levels ahead of busy Labor Day weekend

A Washington State Ferry arrives in Edmonds in February 2022. (Photo by David Carlos)

Walk-on ridership is near its highest point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at Washington State Ferries. But for people planning a ferry ride over Labor Day weekend, it’s those boarding in a vehicle who should be prepared for long waits.

According to a news release issued Wednesday, since the start of Washington State Ferries’ (WSF) peak travel summer season on June 19, the systemwide vehicle count is at 91% of pre-pandemic levels, with the Anacortes/San Juan Islands, Point Defiance/Tahlequah and Mukilteo/Clinton routes closest to 2019 numbers. Walk-on passengers have been slower to return and are at just 62% of this time three years ago. The total combined vehicle and walk-on summer season ridership through Aug. 28 is at 82% of pre-pandemic levels.

Ridership is expected to grow even closer to pre-pandemic levels as WSF restores service on a route-by-route basis outlined in its COVID-19 Service Restoration Plan (PDF 794KB).

“Unfortunately, our crewing levels are not at a point yet where we can begin adding full service back to our next route – the Edmonds/Kingston route – even on a trial basis,” said Patty Rubstello, head of WSF. “Doing so would put our restored runs in jeopardy. Until then, we will continue to add a second vessel to that route daily as crewing allows.”

Ferry travelers are encouraged to sign up for rider alerts to receive an update each night and morning on what sailing schedule is operating on each run. The alerts also provide updates if staff shortages lead to unexpected service reductions.

Ferries are popular every holiday weekend and people boarding a ferry by vehicle should be prepared for long waits. The busiest sailings will be westbound (or onto an island) Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 1-3, then eastbound (or off island) Sunday through Tuesday, Sept. 4-6. To reduce or eliminate waiting, riders may consider taking an early morning or late-night sailing or walking on.

On Monday, Sept. 5, there will be a few holiday schedule changes for the Anacortes/San Juan Islands and Point Defiance/Tahlequah runs, along with the Edmonds/Kingston route if supplemental service is added. The Seattle/Bainbridge Island run will operate on a Saturday timetable and the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route will run a Sunday timetable. Holiday sailings are marked on the schedules for each route.

Before heading to a terminal or boarding, people driving on board should check terminal conditions. Anacortes/San Juan Islands and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes also offer vehicle reservations.


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