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Washington state ferry. Photo via Christine Majul
Washington state ferry. Photo via Christine Majul

Washington state ferry passengers are accustomed to waiting in long lines to board one of the popular ferry routes.

reservations222But what’s worse than waiting at the docks in Anacortes or Port Townsend?

Waiting to book an online reservation for one of the summer routes.

The Washington State Department of Transportation was supposed to roll out its Save a Spot reservation system today, allowing passengers to book in advance for some of the popular routes this summer.

However, the system is struggling to stay afloat. I encountered this first-hand at 7 a.m., trying to book a reservation to Lopez Island for a family camping trip this June.

The online reservation system returned an error during my first few attempts to book a reservation. Finally, after about 15 minutes, I was able to access the system, plug in the details of my trip, only to receive this message:


Customer support phone lines provided a busy signal, or simply cut off. Attempts to reach WSDOT public relations were unsuccessful.

One of my fellow travelers for the summer trip said she had been waiting 80 minutes to try to make a reservation — longer than it takes to wait for many ferries to the San Juan Islands.

WSDOT has since apologized for the snafu, but there’s no solid information on when reservations will be operational for the summer sailings.

WSDOT joked in an earlier Tweet that the system appeared to be “having a case of the Tuesdays.”

Some of my fellow travelers, however, weren’t really in a jovial mood this morning as they attempted to secure a reservation.

The Save a Spot system is based on a “30/30/30″ tiered release: 30 percent of reservations are accepted two months prior to each season’s start date; then another 30 percent two weeks out; and the last 30 percent two days prior to go time. They hold 10 percent of each ferry for standby. There is no additional charge for making a reservation.

UPDATE: A spokesman at WSDOT offered this response to GeekWire’s inquiry:

“We got swamped, and then some. Swamped is of course a nautical term. So to continue in that vein, we are bailing (water, not out). Still afloat, and clawing back.

In a nutshell: 30x sustained traffic versus any peak we’ve had since January. A bit more than expected (and within our tolerance), but it seems a software problem may have been concealed until now.”

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