'The system is broken': Staffing issues plague Wash. ferries
CLINTON, Wash. - Disgruntled ferry passengers are demanding to know if the state ferry system is doing all it can to prevent delays and cancellations after a major glitch Friday morning.
Washington State Ferries confirms it cancelled two sailings on the Clinton/Mukilteo run after a scheduling mistake caused a boat to be one crew member short.
"We apologize to our customers," says Washington State Ferries communications director Marta Coursey. "We know cancellations inconvenience people and we do everything we can to prevent them."
Friday's morning glitch was a scheduling mistake, not the result of a sick call. Coursey says dispatchers quickly realized the error and called in a replacement crew member.
The cancellation of Friday's 5:10 a.m. sailing started a domino effect that still irritates ferry commuter Pam Sipe.
"I'm not blaming the crew members, but the system is broken," she says.
Sipe says the delay made her late for work, and forced a public bus to wait for a large group of Boeing workers who were also on the ferry.
"That bus waited thirty minutes, so now his schedule is messed up. It affected people getting to the airport. I had a pilot friend who missed his flight. That's huge."
The state ferry system acknowledges it is struggling with long-standing budget cuts that have caused chronic staff shortages.
"We operate on a very thin margin," says Coursey. "We cannot afford to have extra crew members standing by waiting to jump in when we suddenly find a crew short-handed."
The ferry system has trained and hired eleven additional deckhands and has retained seasonal workers from last summer.
The Problem Solvers first exposed how staff shortages were causing cancellations. Last September, staffing problems forced the cancellation of 32 sailings on a single day.
"It looks like there's no room for any human error whatsoever, and we are human," says Sipe, who commutes by ferry to her job.
She hopes Friday's glitch will put pressure on ferry system.
"If we all sit back quiet about it, the state's going to feel like everything's okay," she says. "They're not going to know that we the customers are having a problem if we don't say something."