Last year’s ferry ridership nears 75% of pre-pandemic levels

Submitted by Washington State Ferries.

Annual ridership aboard Washington State Ferries rebounded from 2020 pandemic numbers by almost 3.3 million customers in 2021 to nearly 17.3 million. The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and a boost in tourism are the main reasons for the system’s largest year-to-year ridership increase on record.

For only the second time since it began operations in 1951, and the second year in a row, WSF carried more vehicles with a driver (8.9 million) than passengers (8.4 million) in 2021, as many continued to work from home or chose to drive on board because of the pandemic.

State ferry ridership in 2021 rose to roughly 72% of 2019 pre-COVID-19 numbers, with vehicles climbing to 85% and walk-on customers up to 42% of pre-pandemic levels. Ridership is expected to rebound further when COVID-19 eases and as WSF restores sailings closer to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re in the process of planning our service restoration efforts as we continue to aggressively recruit, hire and train new employees,” said WSF Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello. “Pandemic-related vessel crewing challenges and the temporary loss of one of our biggest ferries due to an engine room fire were two major service obstacles for us in 2021.”

The greatest year-to-year increase came on the Seattle/Bainbridge Island route, where total ridership – vehicles and passengers combined – was up 44%. The Anacortes/San Juan Islands route had the second-largest growth at 36% with ridership on those runs reaching 95% of pre-pandemic levels. Vehicles climbed 23% for the San Juans.