Ferry fares hiked (another) 6 percent

The new walk-on fare will be $6.50, while motorists will pay $11.25 each way.

It’s official: ferry fares will take a 6 percent leap on May 1.

“It’s not a surprise,” said Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committee member David Groves of the state Transportation Commission’s approval of the hike on Thursday. “Fare increases have become something that’s continuous and ongoing.”

Cross-sound passenger tickets will swell to $6.50 after the 40 cent increase is included. One-way vehicle and passenger fares will go up 65 cents, topping off at a new $11.25 rate. Prices for vehicles will increase by 80 cents during the peak -season, from May 1 to Oct. 7, to $14.10.

Motorcycle drivers won’t take as big a hit as the 12 percent hike previously proposed by the state Tariff Policy Committee. The committee had recommended reducing its one-car-to-five-motorcycles estimated ratio to better reflect the growing size of some motorcycles. But strong opposition from motorcyclists changed the commission’s stand.

“I was pleased by the response by motorcycle riders,” said Groves. “They had a really big turnout at fare meetings. About two-thirds of the comments were about the (motorcycle) aspect. I was impressed with the detail they brought to public hearings. They brought digital pictures showing that motorcycles were going into nooks and crannies and didn’t displace cars.”

Tariff Policy Committee Chair Alice Tawresey said the decision to drop the motorcycle increase was a direct result of public testimony.

“I’m proud of that,” she said. “It shows that we have a public process for a purpose.”

Tawresey, a Bainbridge resident, said her committee was charged by the state Legislature with crafting changes that will eventually draw 80 percent of Washington State Ferries’ operation budget from the fare box.

The latest increase will put about 75 percent of the budget burden on riders, she said. This latest increase will help WSF cover the rising cost of fuel, according to state ferry officials.

Recommending the hike didn’t come easy, Tawresey said.

“I’m discomforted by another 6 percent increase,” she said. “I know that as the rates get higher it becomes a barrier from going to Seattle. The boats are still overloaded with cars so it’s not overwhelming some people, (but) people of low incomes feel it much harder.”

The increase will go beyond the cost of commuting, according to Groves.

“There is no question that these fare increases have had a direct impact not just on islanders’ cost of living, but also on the cost of doing business and on tourism,” he said. “With every year’s increase, it gets harder for Seattle tourists to make that spontaneous decision to take the ferry over to Bainbridge.”

According to Groves, WSF has hiked fares by about 70 percent since 2000. That was the year voters approved Initiative 695, which slashed the state motor-vehicle excise tax to $30. The measure nearly gutted public transportation funding and forced the state to rely more on ticket prices to keep ferries running.

The growing trend toward substantial annual fare hikes could see a reversal in the near future, according to Groves and Tawresey. They point to a recently commissioned state study of WSF’s budget program. The study aims to reassess funding strategies to ease the burden on ferry riders.

Tawresey believes the study, which is set to conclude next year, could require highway users to offset some of the ferry budget, among other state-funded aid proposals.

“Hopefully, we’ll see the Legislature pick up more of the slack,” Groves said.

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