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

People boarding in vehicles should travel off-peak hours to avoid long waits

SEATTLE – 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.

Since the start of WSF’s 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.

Busy travel times

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.

Holiday schedules

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.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people wear face masks in indoor public transportation settings, but they are no longer required.

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.

People using state highways to get to the ferry terminal should plan for potential holiday travel backups and delays by checking real-time traffic information on the WSDOT traffic app for mobile devices or online using the updated WSDOT travel map feature.

WSF, a division of the Washington State Department of Transportation, is the largest ferry system in the U.S. and safely and efficiently carries tens of millions of people a year through some of the most majestic scenery in the world. For breaking news and the latest information, follow WSF on Twitter and Facebook.

Slow down on ice and snow.

It's easier to skid or lose control traveling at higher speeds. Give yourself more time to stop.

Carry chains, practice installing them.

Winter conditions could mean chains are required on your route. Practice putting them on your vehicle ahead of time.

Pack your winter car kit.

Carry extra supplies like warm clothing, ice scraper and brush, jumper cables and other emergency items.