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Annual ferry fare hike is here

If you own a boat, the first weekend in May is the kickoff of the Puget Sound boating season.

If you ride “the boat,” the first Sunday in May marks what is becoming another annual event – in increase in Washington State Ferries fares.

Bottom line for Bainbridge-Seattle walk-ons – an increase in round-trip travel from $5.10 to $5.40, collected on Seattle-to-Bainbridge leg only, beginning Sunday.

If you’re driving aboard, it’s a double whammy, because the peak-season vehicle-fare increase that traditionally takes effect on Mothers Day has been moved forward a week, so both the annual and seasonal increases happen at once, boosting the car-driver fare from $9 to $12.

The peak-season increase, intended to snag the summer trade on what is one of the state’s largest tourist attractions, will disappear on the second Saturday in October, dropping the drive-on tab back to $9.50.

The senior (over 65) and disabled passenger fare goes from $2.50 to $2.70, the youth fare (5-18) jumps from $3.60 to $4.40. Children under 5 ride free.

Bicyclists will continue to pay a $1 surcharge.

For more frequent riders, the ten-book-ticket price goes from $38.25 to $43.20. Tickets bought at the old rate are still good until their expiration date.

The monthly pass, intended for daily commuters, increases from $62.20 to $70.20 if bought on-line. Passes bought at either Town & Country or Safeway cost an additional $1. Monthly passes become less expensive than ticket books for anyone taking 17 or more round-trips per month.

The increases come on top of significantly larger boosts in the last two years that have raised the single-trip fare from $3.70 in 2000 – a number that had not changed in several years – to $5.40 beginning Sunday.

The boosts are part of an effort to recover 80 percent of the system’s operating costs at the fare box, to make up for the money lost when the value-based Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was eliminated.

The tax was felled first by voter approval of a Tim Eyman initiative, then by legislative action after the Supreme Court ruled the initiative unconstitutional.

The system’s Tariff Policy Committee had originally recommended greater fare increases to reach the 80 percent target.

But new WSF chief Mike Thorne has instituted a plan to generate additional money through such things as advertising and improved concession contracts, and by achieving greater operating efficiencies.

TPC chair Alice Tawresey of Bainbridge Island says another increase next year is likely.

“The consensus is that we’re looking at an additional 5 percent increase in the near future to get closer to the recovery level of 80 percent,” she said.

Prior fare hikes have raised fare-box recovery to 69 percent, Tawresey said, and the Sunday boost should push that amount to well over 70 percent.

“We appear to be making continuing progress,” she said.

“After next year, the changes may be more like cost-of-living increases.”

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