Survey highlights ferry issues

Residents around Puget Sound think ferry-served communities should shoulder the bulk of Washington State Ferries operating costs through fares and local taxes.

That was one finding of a random phone survey of 1,240 residents from eight regional counties, conducted by Opinion Research Northwest for the state Transportation Commission. The phone survey accompanied recently released preliminary results of the onboard survey of summer WSF customers.

An average response from Puget Sound-area residents surveyed by phone said half of the WSF’s costs should be supported by ferry fares, 28 percent should come from local taxes in ferry-served communities and taxpayers statewide should be asked to pony up 22 percent.

Currently 50 percent of ferry revenue comes from state taxes and 50 percent comes from fare collection.

One third of phone survey respondents were from West Sound counties while the bulk were from King, Pierce, Skagit and Snohomish Counties and 57 were from Vashon Island and the San Juan Islands.

Meanwhile the summer survey of ferry riders, completed in late August, turned up predictable results.

It found that WSF ridership rises 38 percent in summer months, ballooned by recreational users who tend to be more satisfied with fares and service than winter users.

Combined with its March survey of winter riders, Opinion Research Northwest has gathered responses from 13,000 riders spread across all routes. The intent of the surveys was to provide the commission profile ferry riders, while judging how various operations strategies for shifting demand away from peak hours would be received.

The winter survey had found that WSF customers are older and more affluent relative to the state population. Summer riders were found to be slightly younger but otherwise demographically the same as winter riders. One third of summer riders said they were traveling for recreation, twice as many as in the winter.

The mode of travel shifted little from winter to summer. In both seasons 65 percent of users were drivers or passengers in a vehicle. Bicycle passengers increased from 3.5 percent in the winter to 5.3 percent in the summer.

When it came to prices, the cumulative results of both surveys showed that most vehicle passengers feel fares should be lowered or maintained current levels. Walk on passengers felt fares were reasonable and could be raised up to 5 percent before becoming too expensive.

Passengers on the Bainbridge and Kingston runs were found to be the least sensitive to fare increases for vehicles.

The Transportation Commission used the survey to test the waters for expanded use of a reservation system on boats throughout the system.

Survey respondents agreed that any reservation system should allow frequent users to book a full week of travel at a time, forfeit reserved spaces for vehicles that arrive late, and keep spaces available through the day of departure. More than 40 percent of riders said they would be willing to pay a fee for reserving a car space on a particular sailing.

WSF has a smaller percentage of dissatisfied customers in summer months the survey found, likely reflecting number of riders traveling for pleasure.

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