Summer travel season: ‘The Super Bowl for ferry line-cutting’

Summer is the peak season for ferry travel, with ridership typically going up by 50 percent as throngs of tourists join regular ferry riders on the state’s vessels. Line cutting typically goes way up in summer, as riders unfamiliar with the system arrive at the terminal and not the back of the line.

The summer travel season is the busiest time for the Washington State Ferry System as tourists join regular riders, utilizing our ferries as their magic carpet to “get away to it all” and enjoy our state’s wealth of recreational opportunities.

But for ferry riders, it also means peak-season fares, longer ferry lines and an increase in incidents of ferry line-cutters. According to ferry system spokesperson Ian Sterling, the number of ferry line-cutter reports to the state DOT’s HERO line went up 25 percent between 2016 and 2017.

“We’re carrying more passengers, 25 million last year alone, and more passengers means more line-cutting,” said Sterling.  “Ridership goes up 50 percent in summer, as crowds of tourists unfamiliar with our roads join locals and commuters on our vessels. Summer is definitely the Super Bowl of line-cutting.”

According to Sterling, during the winter season, the HERO line gets “a few dozen calls” reporting line-cutters.  Over the summer, it’s in the hundreds.

“If you want to anger your fellow passengers, the quickest way to do it is to cut in front of them in the ferry line,” he added. “While it may be very tempting to take matters into your own hands and confront the line-cutter, we strongly urge you not to do this. Pick up your cell phone instead and report the offender on the HERO line.”

Reporting is easy, and can be done with a simple phone call to 877-764-HERO, or filling in the online complaint form at

“Unfortunately there’s not much instant gratification when reporting on the HERO line,” explained Sterling.  “Offenders first get a letter in the mail from the Ferry System. If they’re reported again, they get a letter from the Washington State Patrol. But offenders caught in the act get a ticket, a $136 fine and a trip to the back of the line.”

After reporting an offender on the HERO line, you can also inform ferry system personnel at the ticket booths or directing traffic, or the WSP troopers who regularly patrol ferry lines with dogs trained to sniff out explosives and other materials prohibited on the ferries.

“Our primary mission is crime and terrorism prevention on the ferry system,” explained WSP Trooper and K-9 handler Ken Fortino. “But we also issue warnings and citations to line-cutters, and give them a quick trip to the back of the ferry queue.”

“While it’s maddening when it happens in front of you, it’s important to keep in mind that most incidents of line-cutting are inadvertent,” added Sterling. “The tourist season means more people unfamiliar with our roads are heading for the ferries, many guided by GPS systems.  When you set your GPS for ‘Edmonds Ferry Terminal’ it takes you right to the terminal, not to the back of the line, and tourists will often just drive right up to the boat.  When this happens we’ll issue a warning, and then direct them to the back of the queue.”

Sterling stresses that the most important thing to keep in mind is not to confront line-cutters directly. “These are potentially explosive situations that can easily escalate into full-on road rage,” he warns.  “The best approach is to take a few deep breaths, report the offender on the HERO line, and inform ferry or WSP personnel on duty.”

–Story and photos by Larry Vogel

One Reply to “Summer travel season: ‘The Super Bowl for ferry line-cutting’”

  1. Part of the problem is the terrible signage explaining where to go. Some people get confused and drive in the ferry holding lanes, passing the regular law-abiding traffic, and making it dangerous to turn right onto Pine Street. Whoever is in charge of this needs to create much better signage to let people know where they are supposed to travel and when it’s OK to be in the holding lane.


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