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Commissioners explain fare increases for ferry at Bainbridge meeting

Representatives with the Washington State Transportation Commission came to Bainbridge Island this week to explain a back-to-back ferry fare hike proposal currently under consideration.

But talk of higher fares as soon as this fall didn’t garner much of a crowd at the Waterfront Park Community Center on Monday. In fact, the five-person panel of ferry representatives led by Chairman Dan O’Neal was evenly matched by the audience for much of the meeting.

Those who did attend, though, suggested the rate increase be slightly delayed, or noted the changing ridership facing the Washington state ferry system.

“If you look at your own data for the Bainbridge Island route, over a two-year period, the average age of a rider increased by two years,” said Torin Larsen, chairman of Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committee. “Your riders are getting older and they are not being replaced by younger riders.”

“I would submit to you that it’s not people moving out of these communities, it’s that they are not being replaced as they get older,” he added.

Larsen asked commission members to stress that information with the state’s Legislature during future budget considerations.

More immediate, however, are higher fares that would help fund the current ferry system, and a series of rate adjustments are on the table.

As proposed, walk-on fares would go up by 2 percent, and vehicle fares would rise by 3 percent on Oct. 1.

That breaks down to an October increase of 15 cents for walk-on fares, 15 cents for small vehicles, and 65 cents for vehicles between 22 and 30 feet in length on the Bainbridge Island-Seattle route.

This would be followed by another fare increase of 2 percent for walk-on passengers, and 2.5 percent for vehicles, in May 2014.

The crowd didn’t criticize the increases, however, some questioned the implementation.

“I think the second fare increase should be October 2014,” said Adam Brockus, a Bremerton councilman.

“That’s when fares are going down for most people who are drivers,” he said. “That adjustment will be less harmful to residents using the ferry.”

“I think we should maximize our opportunities to get more tourists,” Brockus added. “Especially during times they aren’t used, like during commuter times.”

The commission will vote on the fare-increase proposals on July 30.

The rate hikes come in the wake of revenue requirements recently set by the state Legislature in the 2013-15 transportation budget.

But the proposals don’t just focus on fare increases. The commission may also bring down other fares, such as those for youth passes.

“Since the late ‘90s, a rider age 6 to 18 has been eligible for 20 percent off a fare,” said Greg Deardorf, a planner with Washington State Ferries. “The proposal increases that to 50 percent. That actually restores that discount to what it was before the late 1990s.”

Deardorf further noted rider feedback that ferries have priced some people out of the market.

“This was done in the same spirit as the other fare changes that have been proposed; encouraging more passenger ridership, particularly making the system more accessible to families with young children,” he said.

The commission will also look at providing a discount to vehicles under 14 feet in length to 70 percent of the full fare. This is keeping with the commission’s plan to encourage smaller vehicles on the ferries.

The charge for oversized motorcycles will also be eliminated under the proposal.

Instead, hefty bikes will pay the decreased fee for vehicles under 14 feet.

 

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