State gathering feedback on ferry fare increase

  • Tue Jul 11th, 2017 11:07am
  • News

Ferry fares are expected to rise more than 2 percent for pedestrians and standard vehicles come October, and islanders are being asked to weigh in Monday.

The meeting, held by the Washington State Transportation Commission, is one of four being held this month in ferry-riding communities from Bainbridge Island to the San Juans and Whidbey Island.

The commission in May released its fare proposal, which calls for a 2.9 percent increase for standard vehicle fares beginning Oct. 1 and another 2.5 percent increase in 2018 — a total 75-cent increase. Fares for passengers in vehicles and walk-ons will increase 2.5 percent this October and another 2.1 percent in 2018 — a total increase of 35 cents. State law requires the commission to set fares for Washington State Ferries and fares have gone up nearly every year since 2007.

The hikes come courtesy of the transportation operating budget passed by state lawmakers earlier this year. It mandates the cash-strapped state ferry system to come up with $381 million between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019, to cover daily operations. The fare increases will generate $8.4 million more than current fares.

The transportation commission decided on the increases in conjunction with the state’s Ferry Advisory Committee – Tariff (FACT), a committee made up of citizens from ferry-served communities that works alongside the transportation committee, and Washington State Ferries (WSF). Islander Greg Beardsley is FACT chair and said this year that both FACT and the state transportation committee reached consensus on the plan, which also eliminates the surcharge for oversized vehicles — grocery delivery trucks and vehicles with trailers — A fact he is happy about.

“I’ve been working to get Ferries to do some things to make fares more defensible so everyone is charged for square footage they take up on the boat and they don’t get special or less-than-special rates,” Beardsley said. “It’s something we on FACT agreed by consensus to do so that everybody gets a fair shake.”

Monday’s meeting will allow islanders to hear about the plan, voice concerns and ask questions. But Beardsley said it’s important to remember that the transportation commission’s only job is to set fares and it is not in charge of anything else in the ferry system.

“I’m sure people will ask, ‘Why are we paying all this money for crappy service?’” he said referring to the recent issues at Fauntleroy. “They (the commission) have absolutely nothing to do with Fauntleroy, and they don’t set the revenue target. All they do is set the rate needed to meet the revenue requirement the Legislature has put on them.”

He said that prior public meetings around ferry fare increases have been controversial, but because of the agreement and communication among the FACT, transportation committee and Ferries, this process wasn’t.

“We had our (FACT) input in early; we got Ferries to agree, and Ferries’ proposal won the day. There’s not really much that’s going be decided (after the meeting). They have to do it (raise fares),” he said.

The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, July 17, in the Vashon High School cafeteria.