WSF drops ferry restoration plan, now estimates 2028 for resuming full service

The news means the Triangle route will be on two boats for the foreseeable future.

Washington State Ferries (WSF) has dropped its COVID-era ferry restoration plan and now says full, lasting restoration on all of its routes will likely have to wait until the agency can get its first new ferries — at least 2028.

“While we do not expect full, permanent restoration on all our domestic routes until we receive the first new ferries in 2028, there will be times — including entire sailing seasons — when we may be able to run additional service on one or more of our unrestored routes,” WSF said in an email announcement.

The announcement comes after years of degraded ferry service for WSF, felt acutely by Vashon residents who have no road system connecting the island to the mainland. In 2021, WSF reduced the Triangle Route, which connects the north end of Vashon to Fauntleroy on the east and Southworth on the west, from a three-boat schedule to two boats.

Beginning in March of 2022, WSF pledged repeatedly to restore Vashon’s ferry service, measuring that restoration by months. But before that, four other routes were prioritized for full restoration ahead of Vashon: Anacortes/San Juan Islands; Seattle/Bainbridge; Mukilteo/Clinton; and Edmonds/Kingston.

Most recently, WSF estimated the Triangle route might be restored by early 2024.

But “as more years separate us from the pandemic and WSF better understands some of the systemic challenges related to crew and vessel availability, it’s clear it will take longer to restore all routes to full service,” WSF said in its new service plan.

Now, restoration is being measured in years, not months.

While “not entirely surprised” by the announcement, Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee Chair Justin Hirsch said he intends to question WSF about what, exactly, has changed such that now, service restoration won’t be possible before a new vessel comes online.

“The ongoing crew, vessel, ridership, and budget issues are not new,” he wrote.

Two islanders catching a morning ferry from Vashon to West Seattle on Friday expressed complicated emotions at the news — though neither interviewed was surprised.

Vashon United Methodist Church senior pastor Mark Wagner, one of the passengers on the boat, kept a positive attitude and said that amid the news, it’s important to encourage ferry workers — the ones who, ultimately, keep the boats running.

“Getting angry about it just feels unproductive,” said Wagner. “It’s a big system to keep afloat, literally. … I’m grateful there are two boats because there have been times [when] there’s just one boat. I’m human, I’ve definitely gotten frustrated at times. … (But) for our family, personally, we chose to live on an island. This is one of those sacrifices that we have to make to live here.”

Ultimately, “I have to believe there are some people … trying to make it work the best way they can,” Wagner said.

An island passenger who said her name was Emily expressed frustration with the ferry system, given the amount of time the ferries already spend in maintenance and the rising cost paid by riders. Ferry delays have forced her to race up and down the mainland to catch a vessel back onto the island in the middle of the night, an experience familiar to many islanders.

“This isn’t a feasible situation,” she said.

For the foreseeable future — at least four more years — Vashon commuters on the Triangle route should expect, at best, two-boat service, with only occasional improvements to that number when available.

When such additional spontaneous or seasonal service is available, the Triangle route will be the highest priority for receiving a temporary third vessel, according to the new Service Contingency plan released by WSF in early January.

Even though new vessels are projected to begin arriving in 2028, “full, permanent service restoration may be gradual and will remain dependent on vessel availability,” the new WSF plan says.

WSF’s new contingency plan is available here.

High demand for service and a limited stock of boats and crew remain the primary challenges to restoring service, WSF said. Its fleet has dwindled from 24 vessels in 2015 to only 21 now, and the boats in operation continue to age and accrue maintenance hours.

It will take 26 vessels in total, or another 5, to provide reliable service on every route, WSF said.

A change in state law last year will allow WSF to expand its vessel-building program out of state, and legislative appropriations have injected millions in new funding to the agency to hire and retain employees. WSF is launching a recruitment campaign next week, according to The Seattle Times, which also reported that Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed about $20 million for hiring and promotion for crew in his proposed supplemental budget, with WSF projecting staffing levels to slowly rise over the next two years.

Those gains will be needed just to avoid further atrophy of service. Half of WSF’s most credentialed deck and engine room employees are retirement eligible in the next five years, the agency said, and its current vessel fleet is aging and requires frequent maintenance, both planned and unplanned.

“We’re not surprised by the most recent WSF news,” Vashon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Drayer said in an email. “Given the ever-diminishing size of the fleet and the ongoing staffing challenges, restoration to three boats always felt like reading that sign at a bar that says ‘free beer tomorrow.’ “

The report makes it clear that Vashon must have an “organized, consistent base of advocacy” for improved ferry service to and from the island, Drayer said.

While WSF focuses on boats and crewmembers that are years away, Drayer pointed to practical solutions raised recently by the Islanders for Ferry Action, a group convened by the Chamber that recently published a report on challenges from and solutions to Vashon’s ferry service. (Read the report at

Solutions detailed in the report include expanded medical priority loading, water taxi service and metro service, improvements to ferry loading and to traffic on Fauntleroy Way, and the permanent placement of an Olympic-class boat on the Triangle route.

Data from WSF’s new contingency plan indicates that of 1,069 trips canceled in Summer 2023, 60% were canceled due to a lack of crew. Another 12% were due to vessel mechanical issues, and another 12% were from schedule resets owing to severe delays.

Islanders have two chances to learn more and express their thoughts about what WSF’s continued diminishment of service means for Vashon.

Ferry Action Committee

The next meeting of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee will occur as scheduled from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17 at the Vashon-Maury Land Trust building located at 10014 SW Bank Rd, Vashon, WA 98070.

There will also be an online/hybrid component to the meeting via Zoom, available at

Weigh in with WSF

The next meeting of the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee takes place from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17 at the Vashon-Maury Land Trust building, located at 10014 SW Bank Rd. There will also be an online/hybrid component to the meeting via Zoom, available at

At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, and 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, WSF staff will answer questions following a brief presentation. Both meetings will cover the same material. Advanced registration is required. The day after each meeting, a video recording will be available online on WSF’s community participation webpage.

This is a developing story and will be updated.