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State calls for higher ferry fares

Under a state proposal, ferry riders will see fares increase by about 5 percent over the next year.

Representatives from the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) will discuss the proposal and take comments at a public meeting on Vashon tomorrow evening.

The WSTC, which is holding meetings throughout the month in ferry communities, will make a final decision on the proposed changes at a July 30 hearing in Seattle.

“I think it’s a reasonable increase considering all the factors,” said Greg Beardsley, chair of Vashon’s Ferry Advisory Committee.

Beardsley is also a member of the regional Ferry Advisory Committee on Tariffs, which made recommendations to the WSTC on crafting its proposal.

The WSTC, charged by the state Legislature to raise $18 million more in ferry fare revenue in the next two years, recently proposed raising fares in October and again in May of 2014. Under the proposal, vehicle fares would increase 3 percent and passenger fares 2 percent in October. Next May, vehicle fares would increase 2.5 percent and passenger fares 2 percent.

Beardsley noted that the hikes are similar to past fare increases, but said he and some others on the committee wish the latest proposal didn’t have vehicle fares increasing at a faster rate than passenger fares. “I don’t think you can separate them, especially not system-wide,” he said. “(Some) routes don’t lend themselves well to foot passengers.”

The proposal also includes a slightly steeper fare increase on the Anacortes-Sydney, B.C. route, a greater discount for youth fares and the completion of a three-phase plan that began in 2011 to provide reduced fares to small vehicles. Under the final phase of the plan, cars under 14 feet will pay 30 percent less than the standard vehicle fare.

“They’re going to be charged by the area they take up, more or less,” Beardsley said.

The state has struggled to cover the costs of operating the ferry system and building new vessels for more than a decade and has borrowed from other parts of the state transportation budget to fund the ferries since the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax expired in 2000.

While the Legislature recently avoided proposed cuts to ferry service, including some cuts to Vashon routes, it didn’t act on a transportation package that would have provided $9.6 billion for transportation needs — ferries, highways and bridges — over the next 12 years, mostly by increasing the gas tax. About $1 billion in new revenue would have been dedicated to the ferry system, allowing it to build a third 144-car ferry, update ferry terminals and avoid future service cuts.

State Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island), said in a recent interview that she supported the package, which passed in the House but was blocked from a vote in the Senate by Senate Republicans. She noted the recent issues with the aging Klahowya, which has been causing frequent delays on Vashon’s north-end triangle route, and said funds for the construction of a third and final boat in the 144-car class are badly needed.

“It’s very discouraging that we couldn’t even bring it to the floor for a vote,” she said. “I wish we had another option bedsides the gas tax, but at this time we don’t have any other options.”

Beardsley noted that the transportation package that would have funded ferries also included funds for the controversial Columbia River Crossing project and a provision for King County Metro to raise funds for bus service.

“Between those two political footballs, if you will, they were hard pressed to pass that package,” he said.

 

The Washington State Transportation Commission will take comments on proposed ferry fare increases at a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Vashon Park District’s Ober Park Performance Room. Comments can also be emailed to transc@wstc.wa.gov or mailed to WSTC Fare proposal, PO Box 47308, Olympia, WA, 98504.

 

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