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Appleton ferry bills address commuter complaints

t Legislation would end the expiration period on passes, nix one-car-per-pass rule.

State Rep. Sherry Appleton has filed a fleet of ferry bills for the 2008 legislative session, addressing riders’ complaints over prepaid passes as well as larger budget and policy issues.

Two of the four bills would amend the “Wave2Go” rules, nixing both the one-car-per-pass policy and the expiration date. Currently, if a driver tries to cover the fare for a second vehicle with the same pass, the second driver is forced to wait 30 minutes before getting back in line. It’s a common complaint among ferry riders, Appleton said.

“There are a lot of large families that have to take two cars off, but the law says they can’t travel together, and that is ridiculous,” she said.

Appleton said that since a customer has already paid for the fares, they should be able to use them as they please and that if a rider chooses to use two fares on one trip, they’ll likely be buying a new pass that much sooner.

The second bill would do away with expiration date on passes. Appleton said Washington retailers aren’t allowed to put expiration dates on gift cards, and it shouldn’t be different for WSF.

“If you take someone’s money you don’t have the right to after a certain amount of time, to keep their money without providing a service,” she said.

Wave2Go single-ride passes expire one week after purchase, multi-ride and commuter passes last for 90 days.

Appleton said she was burned by an expiration date this year when she took an unexpected trip to Florida and returned to find her ferry pass had expired with nine trips left.

“That’s a lot of money,” she said.

The other two bills are an attempt to secure long term funding and community involvement in the ferry system.

WSF receives one-half of a cent from the 31-cent state vehicle fuel tax, which funds transportation projects and services.

Appleton’s bill would triple that amount without changing the tax itself, meaning money would have to be reallocated from other transportation projects.

Making those cuts will be controversial, she said, but the ferry service deserves more funding as an extension of the state’s highway system.

“This is the only way that I can think of that we can add operating funds for the ferries,” she said.

The added revenue would go toward operational costs and relieving the funding burden shouldered by passengers, but Appleton said she isn’t sure yet how much it could lower fares.

“It may just make them stable,” she said.

A final bill would create a state ferry commission, separate from the State Transportation Commission, which would advise the governor on all aspects of ferry travel.

Appleton, a Poulsbo Democrat representing the 23rd District including Bainbridge Island, said the statewide transportation commission is too centered on roads to address the needs of ferry riders. The new ferry commission would be made up of members from each of the four ferry-served counties.

“It’s the only way I see commuters getting a fair shake,” Appleton said.

State Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) agreed that a citizen ferry commission would play a vital role as the state begins examining broad structural changes in WSF.

“There’s no question we need a stronger community voice overall, especially as we begin assessing the system,” she said.

Rolfes said the more specific pre-paid pass policy changes would be welcome as well.

“These are concerns that we have heard system wide,” she said.

With the recent suspension of Steel Electric boat service to Port Townsend, as well as enthusiasm fostered at the recent Ferry Leadership Summit in Bremerton, Rolfes said Appleton’s bills will be part of a renewed focus on ferries in 2008.

“Her bills are going to be part of a broader discussion that is going to continue in this legislative session for the next year, about the future of the ferry system and our community’s involvement in designing that future,” Rolfes said.

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Ferry bills

State Rep. Sherry Appleton’s 2008 House Bills on Washington State Ferries service include:

HB 2451: Would create a state ferry advisory commission with members from each of the four ferry-serviced counties.

HB 2453: Would allow travelers to use prepaid passes to cover fares for multiple vehicles.

HB 2454: Would triple the amount of ferry funding from the gas tax by reallocating money from other transportation projects.

HB 2455: Would eliminate expiration dates on prepaid passes.

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