Weekly update

Read the weekly update WSDOT Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello, the head of Washington State Ferries, sends to staff, colleagues and stakeholders.

Each week, WSDOT Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello, the head of Washington State Ferries, emails an update to staff, colleagues and stakeholders. Steps to receive a WSF Weekly Update in your email inbox every Thursday:

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If you have suggestions or comments about the WSF Weekly Update, email WSFWeeklyUpdate@wsdot.wa.gov.

Each January, there is a special edition recapping the previous year. View the 2021 Year in Review (PDF 1.2MB).

Here is the latest edition of the WSF Weekly Update:

Each week, WSDOT Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello, the head of Washington State Ferries, emails an update to staff, colleagues and stakeholders.

Jan. 13, 2021

Breakthrough COVID-19 crew cases affecting service

The highly contagious omicron variant is affecting transportation agencies around the world – airlines, bus services and marine transport. We are not immune to these impacts. Due to COVID-19-related relief requests from hundreds of our employees, combined with ongoing staffing shortages, expect most routes to remain on their alternate service schedules until the current surge subsides. That means we will have one-boat service on all routes except Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth, where a two-boat schedule is in place, and Anacortes/San Juan Islands, where we will try to maintain a normal winter schedule.

Photo of crewmembers working aboard a ferry
Should crewing allow, we will put a second boat into service on our Seattle/Bainbridge, Edmonds/Kingston and Mukilteo/Clinton routes for as long as possible.

We appreciate the public’s continued patience as we all work through the pandemic’s unexpected twists and turns. I encourage riders to sign up for our rider alerts to receive updates on what schedule we’re operating on each route.

Recap of recent virtual community meetings

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our recent virtual community meetings. Following a brief presentation about ongoing efforts to mitigate challenges and updates on key projects, members of our executive team, staff and I answered questions from participants on a wide range of topics. More than 900 people attended the webinars, making it our largest turnout for a public meeting series ever! If you missed them, recordings are posted online.

Screenshot of virtual meeting with six people on screen
A few members of our WSF Executive Team and staff joined me in answering questions from webinar participants during a recent virtual community meeting.

WSF Stewardship Award

We honored our Budget Director John Bernhard with this year’s WSF Stewardship Award last week. The award recognizes an individual or team whose efforts help the organization achieve significant savings, efficiency or value in our efforts to care for state resources.

Screenshot of virtual award presentation
I had the honor of virtually presenting Budget Director John Bernhard with the WSF Stewardship Award during an all-staff webinar last week.

John works in budget and program development and his experience and financial planning budgets and audits have proven indispensable as our organization grapples with the financial challenges over the past two years. Thank you, John, for the excellent work and the great care you take in preserving our state resources. Job well done and congratulations!

Attracting diverse youth to maritime jobs

As part of our effort to attract young and diverse people into our workforce, we hosted seven BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) youth at our Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility on Saturday. Our Diversity Advisory Group Executive Sponsor John Vezina coordinated the tour, which was led by Shoregang Foreman Joe Wettleson, who highlighted job opportunities at the facility. The students, part of the SEA Potential program that helps attract diverse students to maritime jobs, also toured the wheelhouse and engine room of Wenatchee, which is currently docked at Eagle Harbor. Thanks to everyone who helped make this tour happen. It’s important that we introduce a new, diverse generation to the opportunities here at WSF!

Photo of people in a sign shop
SEA Potential program students on a tour of the sign shop of our Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility on Bainbridge Island.

Orcas Island ferry ride featured in Kinfolk magazine

Our service between Anacortes and Orcas Island is featured in the January edition of Kinfolk Magazine. The article describes the sights you see on the ride through the San Juan Islands, the people you may meet on the ferry and even the feeling many of you know of the wind in your face at the bow of the vessel. The writeup also details the tribal history of the area, Salish Sea marine life and various sites on Orcas Island.

Photo of magazine spread of article headlined, "The Ferry to Orcas Island"
The ferry ride between Anacortes and Orcas Island is featured in an article in the January edition Kinfolk magazine.

2021 ridership up 3.3M, still below three-fourths of pre-pandemic levels

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and a boost in tourism pushed our annual ridership to nearly 17.3 million in 2021. That’s a rebound of almost 3.3 million from 2020 pandemic numbers. Last year’s total is roughly 72% of 2019 pre-COVID-19 numbers, with vehicles climbing to 85% and walk-on customers up to 42% of pre-pandemic levels. Pandemic-related vessel crewing challenges and the unexpected loss of one of our biggest ferries were two major service obstacles for us in 2021. Read more about last year’s ridership numbers and see route-by-route data in our recent news release.

Photo of vehicle loading onto a ferry
In 2021, we carried more vehicles with a driver (8.9 million) than passengers (8.4 million) for only the second time in history.

2022 legislative session begins

The 2022 legislative session kicked off Monday in Olympia with Transportation Secretary Roger Millar giving a “State of Washington Transportation” address to the House Transportation Committee. This afternoon, he will present to the Senate Transportation Committee, which I testified to virtually on Tuesday about our recent service challenges.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2022 supplemental budget proposal includes strong support for recruiting and retaining qualified personnel, a new dispatch system, ferry system electrification and desperately needed new vessels. I look forward to supporting the governor’s budget plan and answering legislative questions as they work on the transportation budget.

Mandatory training on human trafficking for all new fleet employees

Tuesday was National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and to help stop this serious crime, we are now requiring all our new vessel and terminal employees to complete a course on “Ports to Freedom: Human Trafficking Prevention.” The training was developed by Seattle-based non-profit BEST (Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking). We have also partnered with BEST on their recently launched “Not Alone” campaign to empower people to leave situations of coercion and violence in the sex trades and at work.

Customer kudos

“[…] Patient dealing with pregnancy complications needed transported to the mainland [on Wednesday, Jan. 5]. There was no airlift of any kind due to weather, including Navy, and due to the patient’s condition and the weather, it was not suitable to take the Sheriff’s boat.

“We were able to get Washington State Ferries to send their Inter Island ferry to Friday Harbor in order to take the patient to the mainland. This allowed secure, safe transport of the patient and our crew in abysmal weather.

“We did not do this lightly. We do apologize for those waiting on the interisland ferry last night, please know that this critical intervention made a difference for someone in need.

“Peace Health Peace Island Medical Center (PIMC) sent a doctor and a nurse to assist on this transport, and we want to thank PIMC for doing everything they could to take care of this patient and for working with us on this.

“While in Anacortes we got word that the ferry landing in Friday Harbor was having trouble. Vehicle traffic could not disembark. Instead of stranding an EMT on the mainland with our ambulance, Washington State Ferries allowed us to bring the rig back to Friday Harbor, to be unloaded when the tides or repairs would allow it.

Photo of ambulance on car deck of ferry

“San Juan Island EMS, part of San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1, is proud to work with such dedicated people and organizations […].”

-San Juan Island EMS on Facebook

Patty Rubstello
Assistant Secretary, WSDOT/Ferries Division

14 fish passage projects were completed in 2020

improving access to 54.2 miles of upstream habitat.

11,959 incidents responded to

by WSDOT’s incident Response teams during second quarter of 2021, 15% more than same quarter in 2020.

41 Pre-existing Funds Projects Advertised

during the eighth quarter of the 2019-2021 biennium.