Coupeville ferry route to remain one-boat service

The Coupeville-to-Port Townsend ferry won’t be restored to two-boat service until spring of 2024.

The Coupeville-to-Port Townsend ferry route will not be fully restored to two-boat service until spring of 2024.

The route is considered a low priority and will remain on one-boat service throughout the remainder of 2023 and beyond, according to Washington State Ferries’ February 2023 service restoration plan.

The News-Times reported last June that Washington State Ferries announced full service for the route would be restored in spring of this year.

The Port Townsend-to-Coupeville ferry route has the second lowest priority in the state to be returned to full capacity, just above the Anacortes-Sidney B.C. route, which isn’t expected to return until 2030. The Mukilteo-to-Clinton route ranked third in the system and attained full restoration in May. The phased approach of restoring services is in response to a staffing shortage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The restoration plan states that as the Coupeville route typically operates on one-boat service in the late fall through early spring, Washington State Ferries will begin trialing two-boat service in spring of 2024.

Island County Commissioner Melanie Bacon said the update was both “unexpected and disappointing.”

“This ferry is a critical element of State Route 20 and when it’s not at full operation, that entire highway system is impacted,” Bacon wrote in an email. “I remain flabbergasted that the Washington State Department of Transportation doesn’t make it more of a priority.”

She said the ferry service is a national security issue since there are sailors who live in Jefferson County and are stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey. She was also certain it would affect the county’s economy, as well as that of Jefferson County.

“I know there are many of us on both sides of Admiralty Inlet who will choose other places to spend our tourism dollars, just because of the hassle of trying to get a ferry over to the other side and back,” she wrote.

Ian Sterling, public information officer for Washington State Ferries, wrote in an email to the News-Times that two additional crew members will be on the route on busy event weekends to increase capacity from 384 passengers to 748 passengers for each sailing. The vehicle capacity of each trip, however, will remain the same. There will also be an additional late-evening round trip on Sundays and Memorial Day departing at 10 p.m. from Port Townsend and 10:40 p.m. from Coupeville, using crew already on watch.

“We prioritized route restoration based upon ridership, service performance, availability and directness of travel alternatives, and vessel and crew availability,” Sterling wrote.

According to the restoration plan, the ferry system is still facing staffing challenges due to a global shortage of maritime workers and an aging workforce. Many of the retirements are in senior positions that are harder to fill due to the amount of training, sea time and level of credentials required.