Major fare hike, service cuts avoided

Ferry commuters can expect another 2.5 percent fare increase and a 25-cent surcharge per ticket for construction of a new ferry boat, but service cuts are off the table.

The Senate approved a $9 billion 2011-2013 transportation package Wednesday that spared a bigger fare increase and service cuts.

“Given the state of the budget it was a big win and a big recognition from the rest of the state that ferries are part of the marine highway system,” said Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-23rd). “The legislature transferred funds from other projects to get us through the rocky times.”

The Senate package holds  the fare increase at 2.5 percent, instead of the 10 percent that was proposed in the House. An additional fuel surcharge is still possible if fuel spikes higher than forecasted amounts. The Senate package will now go to the House.

“I would prefer not to see the fuel surcharge policy, but we are still working on that,” Rolfes said.

The 25 cent ticket surcharge will set aside money to build a new 144-vehicle ferry backup boat for the smaller routes in the fleet.

On Jan. 1 WSF raised fares 2.5 percent system-wide.

Final details are still weeks away as the legislature is headed into a special session, which is yet to be announced at press time.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s January proposal to privatize the ferry system is off the table, Rolfes said, but several other bills are still in limbo.

HB 2083, introduced by Rep. Rolfes, would redirect the taxes that WSF pays for diesel, approximately $5.2 million per year, to fund replacement boats. The bill has been in the House Ways and Means Committee since April 1. Sales tax from diesel currently go to the general fund; the redirection would become effective in 2013.

HB 2053 and SB 5925 would increase licensing fees for driving permits, driving examinations, licenses, vehicle titles and certain dealer fees to generate about $125 million for transportation purposes every biennium.

Around $25 million of those funds would be directed to WSF and would be used to eliminate service cuts, fare increases and fund new ferry construction, according to Torin Larsen, Bainbridge representative for the Ferry Community Partnership.

Larsen advised Bainbridge riders that there is still a concern about the lack of a standby boat if a Bainbridge ferry goes down. The WSF fleet will need to retire nine boats in the next 15 years, and 15 boats need to be built in the next 30 years, Larsen said, which doesn’t take into account population growth.

“The lack of a dedicated operating and capital funding source could result in additional cuts going forward,” said Larsen.

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