Yearly ferry ridership expected to drop for first time in 12 years; changes proposed

SEATTLE -- Washington State Ferries ridership has dropped about 2 percent so far this year, with the first year-over-year drop in more than a decade expected.

Ferry ridership is down about 700,000 passengers from this time last year, Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Spokesperson Ian Sterling said.

Sterling predicts the ferries will see about 24 million total riders this year, down from the 25 million projected at the start of the year.

There are a few reasons for the drop in passengers, Sterling said. The main reason appears to be the February weather.

Ferry boats see an average of about 50-to-60,000 passengers a day. During some of the snowstorm days, Sterling said, only about 10,000 people took the boats. This significant drop means the ferries will reevaluate its storm service moving forward and cut service during big storms.

Sterling said the ferry system has never before cut service during snow, but it will align itself with other reduced transit in the future. The exact details of the reduced service still need to be worked out.

While the snowstorm accounted for many lost passengers, so has fast ferry service out of Kitsap County. Passengers that can are moving away from the bigger, slower boats to the speedy fast ferry service.

Not all routes have seen a drop, Sterling said. South end routes like the Southworth terminal and the Point Defiance to Vashon boat saw an increase in ridership.

Ridership out of the Anacortes terminal to the San Juans was also down. The route is popular for tourists and may have been impacted by a less than stellar summer weather season.

While the number of passengers taking ferries this year will be lower, it's still not anywhere near record lows. Sterling says we will likely see as many passengers this year as we saw in 2017.