Ferry fare hike of 5 percent endorsed

The state Transportation Commission Thursday endorsed a 5 percent across-the-board fare increase effective in May, and will schedule a number of public meetings and a hearing on the plan before implementing any increase.

In so doing, the panel accepted the recommendations of the Tariff Policy Committee, chaired by Alice Tawresey of Bainbridge Island.

The increase is a considerable slowdown from the past two years. In 2001, WSF imposed a 20 percent increase, and followed with another 12.5 percent hike last year.

The increases began when the voters and the legislature repealed the value-based motor vehicle excise tax that had provided the lion’s share of state support for the ferry system.

The TPC’s original objective was to boost fares to the point that they covered 80 percent of the system’s operating costs.

But new ferry CEO Mike Thorne argued for a smaller increase, saying WSF could raise some money itself through internal efficiencies and by generating additional money from operations through such things as shipboard and terminal concessions and on-board advertising.

The increase would boost the cost of a round-trip walk-on ticket from $5.10 to $5.35.

Ten-ride ticket books will go up more than 5 percent, because the discount from single-trip tickets would be reduced from 25 percent to 20 percent.

But monthly commuters would still see a bargain by buying a monthly pass. That price would continue to be pegged to the cost of 16 round-trip tickets.

Tawresey said the ferry system plans to get rid of blanket discounts for frequent commercial users, and will negotiate directly with those large-volume users, offering discounts if they use off-peak boats.

“We’re trying to woo back some of the commercial customers that we have lost because of the fare increases,” she said.

Overall, Tawresey said, ridership has dropped since the round of fare increases began, but overall revenue has continued to increase.

Dates and locations on the proposed hikes will be announced later.

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