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OLYMPIA – Sen. Joe Nguyễn (D-White Center) and Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett) met with leaders at Washington State Ferries (WSF) Thursday to address repeated route delays and cancelations impacting constituents on Vashon Island.  

WSF officials said these challenges are an industry-wide reality, but promising changes are on the horizon thanks to new legislation passed during the 2023 legislative session.  

“The two main struggles plaguing our ferry system right now are staffing and maintenance. This session, we prioritized legislation to boost recruitment of new staff, promote existing staff, and procure new boats so we can get more reliable vessels on the water, sooner, and people can get to where they need to go,” Sen. Liias, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said.  

Legislation passed this year aimed at solving these issues includes:  

  • Millions in funding for employment initiatives and hiring more ferry workers to help ensure reliable service, including $9M for labor and familiarization training, $8.1M for the Able-bodied Sailors to Mate Pathway, $2.9M for new employee training, $855,000 for the Seattle Maritime Academy, and more.  
  • SB 5550, which requires WSF to adopt a formal diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, and to help recruit workers from more diverse communities to seek these careers and grow the ferry workforce. 
  • HB 1846, which opens the procurement process for new vessels to national shipbuilders and provides the opportunity to build boats more quickly. 

WSF officials say they have already made tremendous strides in hiring and recruiting new workers as a result of these legislative efforts. Funding from the Legislature is helping usher unlicensed deck officers through training and licensing, and is boosting recruitment of external mates to the pilotage program. WSF has also found success in internal promotion, but is experiencing a shortage in applicants to entry level positions. Some training has also been paused this summer as it takes deck officers out of the fleet to assist with that training.  

“We know that folks on Vashon are reliant on our marine highways to get to work, school and appointments. In meeting with WSF, it is clear they know how this is impacting our community and they are doing everything in their capacity to get service back on track,” Sen. Nguyễn said. “The investments we are making in our ferry system are going to have a dramatic impact both on staffing and service, but it is going to take time to get us to where we need to be. Until then, WSF promised to work with us on additional interim solutions and improve communication with the public about service disruptions.”