Washington State Ferry Ridership Falls to 45-Year Low

Annual ridership aboard Washington State Ferries plunged to 14 million customers in 2020 – a drop of 41 percent or 10 million riders compared to 2019, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

[Above photo by WSDOT.]

That is the lowest yearly ferry ridership level since 1975, the agency added in a statement – a falloff attributed to stay-at-home orders, remote work, and decreased tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WSDOT ferry MV Chetzemoka/Photo by WSDOT

However, WSF noted that for the first time since it began operations in 1951, its ferries carried more vehicles (7.6 million) than passengers (6.4 million) in 2020. The agency said that ridership shift is due to “a dramatic decline” in walk-on customers on routes that serve downtown Seattle, with more people choosing to drive aboard WSF vessels – a change again resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

“When COVID-19 drastically altered ridership patterns, we quickly adjusted service to match this new reality,” explained Amy Scarton, WSF’s assistant secretary.

“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,” she added.

In recent months, WSF said ferry ridership returned to about 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with total vehicles carried at 70 percent of 2019 numbers, with walk-ons are around 20 percent of 2019 volume. The agency expects ridership to rebound further as it restores more ferry sailings and when COVID-19 is under control.

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