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Next round of ferry fare hikes OK'd

Following a two-hour public hearing Thursday, the citizen-based state Transportation Commission voted to increase general ferry fares by 5 percent beginning May 4, and by another 5 percent next May.

The hearing, held in Seattle Thursday, capped off weeks of public comment garnered at eight open houses throughout the Puget Sound region.

The forums were hosted by WSF and the Tariff Policy Committee, a group appointed by the Transportation Commission, and 83 written comments were collected from ferry customers during that time.

Thursday’s fare-increase decision was difficult but necessary, according to one Bainbridge Islander and Tariff Policy Committee member.

“This is an ‘unhappy medium’, actually,” said Alice Tawresey of the TPC. “Nobody wants to pay higher rates, but you can’t reduce the income on the subsidy side for ferries and not make it up somewhere else.”

WSF’s budget was pared down after voters approved Initiative 695 in 1999 and after the Legislature the next spring opted to roll back the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, a value-based car tab tax.

“But, at the same time, the transportation department mitigated the size of the fare increase this year, so that was ‘happy’,” Tawresey said. “It was intended to be a 10 percent increase, but it was suggested at 5 percent, with the rest being made up with a 5 percent increase in additional revenues through advertising, and by reducing expenditures by 5 percent.”

WSF director Mike Thorne and officials presented the plan described by Tawresey – better known as the 5+5+5 strategic business plan – as a way to continue funding key ferry programs long-term.

Also under the two-year fare-increase plan, the passenger coupon discount was lowered from 25 to 20 percent and the youth fare discount was reduced from 30 to 20 percent.

Also, the “peak season” was extended by one week by moving the fare implementation date to the first Sunday in May – this year, May 4.

The increase comes on the heels of a 12.5 percent general increase in ferry fares in 2002, and a 20 percent average increase in 2001.

WSF has also proposed discontinuing passenger-only ferry service at Bremerton and Vashon as a cost-savings measure beginning June 15.

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An overview of the new fares beginning May 4, at the start of peak season:

l Peak car and driver fares for the Central Sound ferries, including Bainbridge, Kingston and Bremerton, will increase from $11.25 to $12 this year and will increase again to $12.50 in May 2004. Discount books for cars will go from $144 to $152 this year and to $160 in May 2004.

l Peak car and driver fares for the Fauntleroy-Southworth route are set to increase from $8.75 to $9.50 May 4, and again to $9.75 in May 2004. Car discount books will increase from $112 to $120 this year and again to $124 next May.

l Monthly passenger passes, sold at area markets, will increase from the present $62.20 to $70.20 on May 4, then increase again to $74 in May of 2004.

For more information, see www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.

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