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Fare hike gets first OK

The Tariff Policy Committee will “go public” with its recommendation to decrease ferry fares for daily commuters while increasing the fares for others, with public meetings in February and March.

The committee received that directive last week from the Washington State Transportation Commission, which will make a final decision on ferry fares after digesting the public reaction to the proposal.

“This proposed (increase) is not a fait accompli,” said Transportation Commission Chairman Chris Marr.

The meetings have not been scheduled.

The proposed ferry fare changes could generate an additional $7.6 million and bolster fare-box recovery levels to nearly 60 percent of operating costs, according to Washington State Ferries officials.

The proposal would give daily commuters a break by reducing the cost of a monthly pass from the current $66.20 a month to $61.20. In an average month with 20 working days, the per-day cost would be $3.06, less than the $3.15 per trip that 10-trip coupon buyers now pay.

Non-daily commuters, though, would see significant increases.

The proposal would boost the current one-way, car-and-driver rate from $8 to $9 on the Central Sound routes of Bremerton, Bainbridge Island and Kingston. Peak season, one way rates on the Central Sound routes for car and driver would increase from $10 to $11.25.

Round-trip passenger fares on those Central Sound routes would increase from $4.50 to $5.10.

With or without the fare hikes, Washington State Ferries has officially gone plastic.

The marine division of the state Department of Transportation began accepting credit cards for fare purchases at the Edmonds and Kingston ferry terminals this week.

WSF spokeswoman Susan Harris-Huether said the plan is to phase in the credit-card services at other terminals by the end of the month, including Bainbridge and Colman Dock on Jan. 21.

WSF officials tout the program, saying the service helps commuters get to where they need to go without as much fuss or muss.

“The service is particularly good for vacationers and tourists who want to use credit cards for everything,” said Harris-Huether. “This is something that WSF has wanted to do for awhile and is just now implementing.”

The program, which accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards but not cards requiring Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), is part of an overall effort to increase customer service levels.

WSF introduced pay-by-plastic as a pilot program – which met with great success – last September in Anacortes.

“The reality has been that it’s pretty quick,” said Harris-Huether. “There haven’t been any slow-ups, since it takes the same amount of time for people to write checks for tickets.”

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