Washington State Ferry ridership lowest in 50 years

It's no surprise that public transportation ridership levels are at an all-time low since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Subsequently, for Washington residents, this involves less time on a public ferry ride.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), annual ferry ridership levels are significantly down for Washington State Ferry services, plunging nearly 10 million, or 41%, to nearly 14 million customers in 2020. In 2019, total customers were shy of 24 million customers.

Numbers dropped largely due to the state's stay-at-home orders, remote work and a decrease in tourism, drastically changing ferry travel patterns, said Washington State Ferries Assistant Secretary Amy Scarton.

"When COVID-19 drastically altered ridership patterns, we quickly adjusted service to match this new reality," said Scarton in a WSDOT release. "Since late summer, we’ve been incrementally restoring sailings based on our COVID Response Service Plan, which considers demand, crew availability, vessel availability and funding."

WSDOT says the largest decrease in ridership came on the Seattle/Bremerton ferry route, with ridership down 64%, and the Seattle/Bainbridge Island route dropping 59%. 

For the first time in 70 years, however, WSF carried more vehicles (7.6 million) than passengers (6.4 million) last year.

In recent months, WSDOT says ferry ridership has returned to about 60% of pre-pandemic levels, equating to nearly 70% of total vehicle numbers from 2019 and 20% of walk-on riders compared to last year. 

WSF expects ridership levels to continue to rise as sailings continue to be restored, barring the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.