Ferry line cutting is getting out of control, and drivers are raging.
“It makes people’s blood boil,” said Ian Sterling, a spokesperson for Washington State Ferries.
While waiting in line for an Edmonds-Kingston boat the other day, Sterling was cut off by someone who, he said, knew what they were doing.
There was little Sterling could do but stew, take a picture of the license plate and contemplate social media shaming.
“It’s at a peak,” he said, “as bad as we’ve seen it.”
Ferry line cutting is a legitimate grievance to drivers who sit for hours in miles-long, single-file, roadside lanes for their spot, only to have someone barge in shamelessly in front of them, said Sterling.
And it’s an added insult when they finally get up to the tollbooth to report the offender and are told there’s little that ferry employees can do.
Workers don’t have the authority or training to confront reported lane cutters, and Sterling says WSF doesn’t want them to do it.
“You never know what someone’s going to do. It’s the Wild West out there,” Sterling said.
Cutting in a ferry line is illegal and can result in a $139 fine if witnessed by local police or state troopers.
Trooper Kevin Fortino, the public information officer for Washington State Patrol’s Homeland Security Division, says he often works at Colman Dock. If he sees someone cut the line there, he may, depending on the circumstances, write a ticket, let a handful of cars load in front of the offender or even send the cutter to the back of the line.
But line cutting is not a public safety priority and does not merit the resources that must first go to keeping boats and passengers safe, Fortino said.
Last year, the State Patrol and the ferry system launched a campaign to educate people about the illegality of line cutting and the potential for fines. But there aren’t enough officers to police ferry lines or launch lane-cutting stings, Fortino said.
Fortino noted there are legitimate reasons for people to cut in line.
Some people have medical exemptions, he said, because they’re going through grueling procedures in a Seattle medical center. Others are ferry employees trying to get to work. Keeping the boats running is one of the better ways to deal with line issues, he said.
Additionally, some drivers have been led by GPS to tollbooths rather than the end of the ferry line, while others have been confused by signage, he said.
Sterling said that while line cutting is not new, especially in summer’s tourist season, the anger seems more intense.
Law enforcement officers have told him that drivers, in general, seem angrier and more aggressive than before the pandemic.
And the shutdown last year of the HERO hotline hasn’t helped, he said.
The reporting program was launched in 1984 when people were not accustomed to dedicated high-occupancy vehicle lanes. It encouraged people to call the line and report HOV-lane violators and those who cut in ferry lines.
No one was ticketed based solely on the complaints, but the reports alerted police to “hot spots” and offered irate drivers a place to vent.
Instead of taking it out on other drivers, they yelled at the hotline employees and seemed to feel better, employees with the Department of Transportation have previously said.
“Now we don’t even have that,” said Sterling, “and it makes people wild.”