Members of our communities are no strangers to the ferry delays and service disruptions that have plagued Washington State Ferries, especially recently. Every route — from Mukilteo to Clinton, Anacortes to the San Juans, Southworth to Vashon — has been impacted. Neighbors recently trying to get home to Bremerton from Seattle were stranded after the last scheduled Seattle-Bremerton ferry sailing of the night was abruptly canceled. While drivers could mostly figure out alternatives home, walk-on passengers had zero options.
We have long been sounding the alarm about the need to better invest in our ferry system. Whether residents are going to work or coming home after a long day, off to a doctor’s appointment or off on a trip — ferries are an essential and significant part of our lives on the Kitsap Peninsula, around Puget Sound and to our island communities.
Disruptive ferry sailing cancellations, among other service changes, continue to cause serious problems. We need to stop leaving our ferry-reliant community members with zero options. For years this has been a concern, but the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse. We need serious solutions.
We have a historic opportunity now — thanks to a historically strong budget outlook — to partner with our state leaders this year to finally secure adequate and sustainable funding for our state’s ferry fleet. Our ask is twofold: Take the immediate steps necessary this session to answer today’s ferry service problems, and take the long-term steps needed to fix years of chronic underfunding down the road.
We were pleased to see Gov. Jay Inslee propose a funding plan for the supplemental budget year to make the necessary improvements we need right now to get our communities the service they deserve. This legislative session, we are asking legislators to approve a one-time general fund transfer of at least $25.7 million for worker recruitment, employee retention and system efficiency. We are also asking that they approve at least $338 million in capital budget funds to complete the first two hybrid-electric ferries and upgrade electrification at three terminals.
In addition to improving the working conditions of WSF staff, this investment would streamline the reassignment of staff from inactive vessels to active vessels and allow for a new dispatch system so that we can improve the efficiency of the entire ferry system quickly.
But frankly, the governor’s proposal represents the bare minimum required to get our communities the ferry service we need and deserve. The future of our ferry system faces significant challenges and will require bold, long-term investments. So we’re championing the Washington State Ferries Long Range Plan, which calls for 16 new boats over the next 20 years, delivering the substantial investments we need for long-term solutions.
The $5.22 billion over 16 years would build 10 new boats, decarbonize our vessels and modernize our terminals with onshore charging capabilities. With the ferry system contributing roughly 20% of carbon emissions of all state government sources, we have an incredible opportunity to simultaneously rejuvenate our aging fleet while also tackling climate change.
We’ve had a long time — too much time — to study the gaps in our ferry system to determine what we need to improve. From more reliable service, to alleviating the burden on WSF workers and keeping our communities connected, our ferry system is in need of significant investment. Now that we know what the solutions are and how much they cost, we just need one more piece of the puzzle — for our state legislators to act.