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Hefty jump in ferry fares proposedThe goal is to recover 80 percent of operating costs at the ticket booth.
"Saying ferry users must be a visible part of the solution to the transportation-funding crisis, a state commission is calling for substantial fare increases over the next six years.In a report issued this week, the Tariff Policy Committee of the state's Transportation Commission recommends boosting the round-trip passenger fare on the Bainbridge, Bremerton and Kingston runs from the present $3.70 to $6.50 by 2006, and the car-and-driver fare from the current $6.50 to $12. During the peak summer season, the car-and-driver fare would go from the present $8.25 to $15.The price of a 10-ride passenger coupon book would go from the present $26 to $46.25 under the proposal.The premise is that users should pay 80 percent of ferry operating costs by 2007, up from the present 65 percent.Users should pay a larger part of the operations costs of the ferry system to show legislators and taxpayers that ferry riders are part of the solution to the problem caused by the Legislature enacting the $30 MVET, said Tariff Policy Committee chair Alice Tawresey of Bainbridge Island, in a memorandum explaining the recommended increases.Repeal of the state Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, first by the voters when they passed Initiative 695 and then codified by the Legislature last year, knocked a $750 million hole in the annual state budget.Because of the way the Legislature had earmarked MVET revenue, the repeal hit transportation particularly hard, costing the ferry system some $125 million per year. The committee recommended a far more substantial increase in passenger-only ferry fares between Bremerton and Seattle, because the current fares recover only 30 percent of operating costs. The proposed increases would bring that figure up to 70 per cent.While 30 percent farebox recovery is consistent with transit-system operations, the committee noted that ferries are paid for with state rather than local funds. Legislators and taxpayers statewide look at a 30 percent farebox recovery as a problem, Tawresey wrote in her memo, adding that Washington State Ferries has proposed dropping passenger-only service if its operations budget is not increased substantially.The state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation included the Tariff Policy Committee's recommendations in the report it submitted this week to Gov. Gary Locke. That report urged a multi-billion dollar package of transportation improvements.The report will also go to the Legislature, which would have to take action to implement the recommendations.Area legislators agreed that ferry users will have to loosen their wallets, but were not all ready to endorse the increases Tawresey and her committee recommended.I think it's a little high, said Rep. Beverly Woods (R-Poulsbo), of the fare proposal. Unless you're going to increase the level of service, I'm not in favor of huge fare increases.Woods opposed substantial ferry fare increases during the last legislative session, arguing that it was unfair to put the whole burden of I-695 on ferry commuters.But that's not an accurate picture of the situation, Tawresey told the Review in an interview Friday.The loss of MVET revenue put a burden on transportation revenues throughout the state, she said. Road users are suffering because there are no capital dollars to build any new roads.Rep. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island) noted that the Blue Ribbon Transportation Commission's report calls for shifting more of the burden of building and maintaining transportation systems to users, rather than taxpayers in general.We're asking users of transportation systems statewide to participate in financing of the systems, Rockefeller said. That applies to ferry service as well.To the argument that ferry riders shouldn't have to pay 100 percent of operations costs, Tawresey said by way of analogy that highway users already do.They buy the vehicle, the gas and the insurance, she said, and the state pays for the road.The Blue Ribbon Commission's report suggested a variety of revenue-raising measures, many of them tied to highway use. Among the suggestions are an increase in the gasoline tax; imposing the state sales tax on the commodity price of gasoline - that portion of the price that does not consist of taxes - weight-based vehicle excise taxes; and per-mile use charges.While the panel calls for greater efficiencies, it projects that efficiencies can account for only about one-third of the $150 billion the state will need to spend on transportation over the next 20 years. Current revenue sources will raise roughly $55 billion, the report says, but the remaining $45 to $50 billion will have to come from new sources. State Sen. Betti Sheldon (D-Bremerton) said the close division in the legislature will make major work on transportation difficult.But the fact that everybody agrees the situation is urgent may make it possible to get something done, she said.Tawresey thinks the fare increases her committee has proposed will likely be implemented, at least initially.She said the Legislature's role in ferry fare increases is limited to voting on whether to waive the revenue limitations on Initiative 601. She said the Legislature has no incentive to oppose fare increases unless there is substantial public opposition.I hope the ferry riders will support these increases, she said. My fear is that if they don't, we could be looking at massive cuts in ferry service as a legislative response.I hope that ferry riders understand that 'free lunch' is a myth. "