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State officials seek 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares

The Washington State Transportation Commission has proposed a 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares. Should it go into effect, it would mark the first general fare increase in more than two years, according to the state commission.

The increase was recommended by the ferries division within the Washington State Department of Transportation and forwarded to the seven-member commission, which sets ferry fares. The commission is currently seeking public comment on the proposed fare hike, which will extend through Nov. 15, when the commission will hold a final public hearing in Seattle. The commission is expected to take action at the Seattle hearing.

Bob Distler, a San Juan resident and a member of the commission, said the fare increase will help the ferry system keep pace with inflation. He sought a slightly larger increase — 3.1 percent — because the 2.5 percent increase, he said, does not close the budget gap the ferry system is facing.

"I would have thought that at the very least the ferry system would have chosen a number that made them whole," he said.

"It does not get them to the place they need to go to under current law," he added. "They're going to be back to the Legislature with a supplemental budget increase request."

The fare increases vary route by route, with some routes slightly above the 2.5 percent average rate increase and some below. At Southworth, for instance, the proposed increase is 3.3 percent; on Vashon, it's 2.3 percent, said Vickie Mercer, a member of Vashon's Ferry Advisory Committee.

Mercer said the increase makes sense in light of the escalating cost of fuel. She's glad, she added, that the commission is seeking what she considers a modest fare hike.

"At least they're not trying to push through a monumental increase," she said.

The public can comment on the proposal by sending an e-mail to the state Transportation Commission at transc@wstc.wa.gov. Residents can also call the commission at (360) 705-7070 or write to it at P.O. Box 47308, Olympia, WA 98504.

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