With the peak season of travel approaching, Washington State Ferries has announced it will be delaying the addition of a second boat to the Port Townsend-Coupeville route due to crewing …
With the peak season of travel approaching, Washington State Ferries has announced it will be delaying the addition of a second boat to the Port Townsend-Coupeville route due to crewing shortages.
A second boat was set to come online May 9, but riders will have to wait until at least June 6 for two-boat service.
Port Townsend City Manager John Mauro said he had heard some disappointment and surprise from people in town given that there had been talk of increased service soon.
“The ferries and the maritime highway are critically important to our residents, businesses and visitors,” Mauro said. “Recent economic analysis commissioned by the Port of Port Townsend really underscores that.”
“I understand Washington State Ferries is experiencing staffing challenges due to COVID and it’s clearly been a really difficult year for them, their crews and their budget,” Mauro added. “But especially now that spring has arrived and we attempt to climb back from the pandemic, I implore WSF to do everything possible to get service back up to the level of demand.”
“The ferry system is vitally important to our community’s recovery and smaller towns like ours will bear even more burden in the meanwhile,” he said.
Mari Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program, agreed.
“May is the active start of our visitor season and visitor numbers have already been very negatively impacted by the pandemic for the past year,” Mullen said.
“Merchants are in recovery mode — they need both visitors and locals coming here to support our shops, restaurants and lodgings to help make up for lost revenues,” she said.
William Kalb is one of the two original founding members of the cooperative Port Townsend Gallery. Kalb estimated that about 40 percent of the gallery’s traffic could be attributed to the local ferry service and most of their business came in the summertime.
Kalb said the delay of the second ferry’s arrival until June would likely serve to protract Port Townsend’s post-COVID business recovery by resulting in “fewer people and fewer sales.”
“Some of it, I think, has been mismanagement of the ferries,” Kalb said. “It seems to me like the boats just aren’t ready to run.”
Still, there’s optimism.
“This gallery’s been around for quite some time and it’s survived quite nicely through some other ferry disasters,” he added.
A block down from the Port Townsend Gallery, Susan Durner greets customers from the counter at Conservatory Coastal Home as they drift in to examine the store’s wares.
Durner said she was just happy to hear that the Port Townsend-Coupeville run would be getting a second boat at all.
That said, she estimated that only about a quarter of the traffic that comes through Conservatory could be tied to the ferry service. And even in normal years, she probably couldn’t tell the difference between off-season and peak-season ferry service.
“A lot of people are coming from out of state and a lot of them are driving,” Durner said while stamping small canvas bags with the word “Conservatory.”
“I’d say three-fourths of it is not dependent on the ferry,” she said.
According to Washington State Ferries, a spike in COVID cases and need to quarantine resulted in a significant number of ferry crews calling in sick.
Coupled with employees now eligible to receive vaccines, more ferry workers are requesting time off to get their immunizations.
All reservations that were made aboard the second boat on the PT route through June 6 will be canceled and customers who have lost reservations will need to make new reservations for available sailings.
“We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and understanding while we continue to navigate this unique and challenging time,” WSF said in a statement announcing the move last week.
To subscribe to Washington State Ferries travel bulletins, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/schedule/Bulletin.aspx.