Next ferry fare hike approved

With minor tinkering, the state Transportation Commission Thursday unanimously approved ferry fare hikes averaging 12.5 percent, on top of last year’s 20 percent increases.

The increases take effect May 12, the same day that peak-season fares begin.

That combination will boost round-trip car-and-driver fares from the current $16 to $22.50 during the summer on the “Central Sound” routes from Seattle to Bremerton and Bainbridge Island, and from Edmonds to Kingston.

Although the increases may not have been applauded, riders are beginning to accept the necessity of higher fares, said Alice Tawresey of Bainbridge Island, chair of the Tariff Policy Committee that recommended the changes.

“The degree of criticism and comment was much more muted this year than last,” Tawresey said. “People are beginning to understand that if you want the service, you have to pay for it.”

While the increases will average 12.5 percent, they are not being applied uniformly. Occasional users will see larger increases, while daily commuters could actually enjoy a fare reduction.

Monthly passes, previously priced at $66.20, will drop to $61.20, and become much more widely available. The passes have previously been sold only via the Internet, but will now be sold at retail outlets in ferry communities.

“I understand the WSF is in discussions with grocery stores about selling the passes there,” Tawresey said.

The stores will be allowed to add a $1 handling fee, making the cost of a monthly pass $62.20. That would reduce the per-day cost of commuting for 20 days a month – an average work month – to $3.11, which is lower than the $3.15 per-trip cost presently available to ticket-book buyers.

Monthly passes on the faster passenger-only ferries would drop from $108.20 to $93.20, reducing daily commute costs in a 20-day month to $4.66.

The passes will not be sold at terminal ticket booths, Tawresey said, because the demand will be so uneven.

“Because they are monthly passes, we expect that a huge number would be sold at the beginning of each month, which would overwhelm the staff,” she said. “We would then have to add more people, who might not have much to do the rest of the month.”

Single round-trip passenger fares on the auto ferries will go from the current $4.50 to $5.10. Bike riders will pay an additional 90 cents. Passenger-only ferry fares would remain $2 higher, going from the present $6.50 to $7.10.

The largest percentage increase will come in the cost of ten-ride coupon books, which will go from the current $31.50 to $38.25 on the auto ferries, and from $51.50 to $58.25 on the foot ferries.

The increase was the second phase of a plan to boost ferry farebox recovery from 60 percent to 80 percent of the operating costs, a plan forged after the value-based Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was eliminated by voter and legislative action.

Rep. Beverly Woods, (R-Poulsbo), the only state legislator to testify at the Transportation Commission hearing, opposed the increases, which she says are unchecked.

“If two fare increases totalling 32.5 percent only bring farebox recovery up to 68 percent, how high will fares have to go to achieve 80 percent?” she asked.

While fares may continue to rise, Tawresey said the TPC and WSF are also looking at technology that could allow for more sophisticated pricing mechanisms like congestion pricing, meaning lower fares at off-peak hours.

The concept, she said, would involve a “smart” card like a telephone card, where someone could buy a given quantum of value, then use that value on any route and for any kind of fare.

“I was very pleased to hear WSF Director Mike Thorne talking about aggressively upgrading our systems,” she said.

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