Ridership on Washington ferries plummeted in 2020

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — Ridership on vessels in the Washington State Ferries fleet plummeted in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials are looking ahead to more sailings and riders in 2021, including those between Anacortes and the San Juan Islands.

State Department of Transportation spokesperson Ian Sterling said officials were surprised at how popular those routes were last summer, the Skagit Valley Herald reported.

“That’s one of the places where a rebound happened much quicker than anticipated,” Sterling said. “We’re looking at what we can do to make the schedule work better and how we add capacity when we can do that. There certainly seems to be demand, especially in the summer, on that route. There’s probably a lot of pent-up travel demand.”

Annual State Ferries ridership dropped from about 24 million to 14 million last year, a drop of 41% and the lowest yearly ridership since 1975.

The ferry system attributed the drop to more people constrained by stay-at-home orders, more employees working remotely and fewer tourists.

For the first time since operations began in 1951, the ferry system carried more vehicles (7.6 million) than walk-on passengers (6.4 million), according to a news release.

Other than the route between Anacortes and Sidney, British Columbia, which was shut down for all but four days due to travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S., the largest ridership drops were on Seattle routes: between Seattle and Bremerton (64%) and Seattle and Bainbridge Island (59%).

Ridership between Anacortes and the San Juan Islands fell 30% from the previous year. Sterling said those routes, which are currently operating on a modified winter schedule, are ones that will be bulked up.

“We’re looking at how we can increase service when it makes sense,” he said.