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New ferry fare structure touted

"Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin wants to raise most ferry fares even higher than the 20 percent increase already proposed, to moderate increases in passenger-only fares.And even though the plan would cost Bainbridge riders extra money, it is finding support among some island officials, who think preserving and expanding the passenger-only system has substantial long-range benefits.Right now it sounds like we're punishing ourselves, said Bainbridge Island Mayor Dwight Sutton. But this plan could put money down towards service to Kingston and Southworth. The Tariff Policy Committee chaired by islander Alice Tawresey had recommended increasing ferry fares to the point that 80 percent of ferry operating costs are recovered from the fare payers at the end of six years, up from the current 62 percent.For Bainbridge riders, the increase would be 20 percent the first year, with somewhat smaller increases for the next five years. The current $3.70 fare would go to $4.50 in May of this year, and reach $6.50 by the year 2006.For the smaller passenger-only ferries that run from downtown Seattle to Bremerton and Vashon Island, the recommended increases are much higher, because those runs recover only about 30 percent of operating costs. The TPC recommended an immediate doubling of those fares, plus a 20 percent increase.The foot-ferry passenger fare would go from the present $3.70 to $9 in May, and ultimately to $13.The foot-ferry increase has drawn sharp criticism from riders and legislators.Tawresey said three public hearings last week suggested concern and anger from the public. And both local representatives, Beverly Woods (R-Poulsbo) and Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island), have called the increases excessive.Ferry fare hikes will be discussed at a public meeting, 4-7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Winslow terminal.Botkin's plan equalizes passenger fares on all ferries. To raise the same amount of money as under the TPC proposal, Botkin would boosts the recommended fares on the big auto ferries by 40 cents.New surchargeAdditionally, Botkin proposes a surcharge of 25 cents on the auto ferries running to Kitsap County and Vashon, and $1.25 on the foot ferries. He wants to segregate that money into a separate fund for Kitsap County ferry transportation improvements, and envisions expanded passenger-only service.Under Botkin's proposal, passenger fares to Bainbridge, Kingston and Bremerton would be $5.15 on the auto boats, and $6.15 on the passenger-only boats. His proposal does not affect car-and-driver fares.Passenger-only service is extremely valuable to Kitsap County and to others as a reliever of congestion, Botkin said. When we're trying to get people out of their cars, it makes no sense to penalize riders in passenger-only boats.Although ferry fares are set by the Transportation Commission, not the Legislature, legislation would be required to segregate the proposed surcharge for Kitsap County use. Botkin said the Kitsap legislators he has spoken to support the concept.Many islanders have long supported increased ferry service to the Kitsap Peninsula, particularly to Kingston, as a way of relieving traffic and parking congestion on the island. Although no definitive numbers are available, estimates are that as many as half of the Bainbridge ferry riders are from off-island.Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committee chairman Forrest Six said he is skeptical of Botkin's plan.I did some calculations using an earlier number of a 25-cent increase on the auto ferries, Six said. It showed that Botkin's plan saved Bremerton commuters about $2.5 million, and that about half of that amount comes from Bainbridge users - not necessarily islanders, but people who ride the Bainbridge boat.Six said the higher fare increase now being proposed would only increase the burden-shifting of the Botkin plan. And he doubts whether the proposed surcharge will significantly improve the passenger-only ferry picture.The occupy a low priority with the Legislature, he said.Botkin recognizes the obstacles, but says that in the current environment of transportation-funding shortfalls, there is no alternative.It's not going to be easy, because there isn't enough transportation money to go around, he said. But if you can raise your own funds, you've got a shot. "

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