Opinion

Keep discount for commuters

Commuters are the backbone of ferry ridership, so it’s time for state legislators to show some backbone on their behalf.

Our state’s Transportation Commissioners have the unenviable task of setting fares for a beleaguered ferry system. Until last year the commission had been directed by state law to consider reasonable fares for frequent ferry riders. But the passage last year of Bill 2358 – the same legislation that brought a refreshing freeze to ferry fares – removed that requirement.

On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee heard public comment on a bill that would restore that much needed direction. The bill was sponsored by Poulsbo Rep. Sherry Appleton, but she let her Kitsap neighbors do the talking.

Those who spoke were as enthusiastic about maintaining commuter fares as they were appalled by the idea of charging peak-hour riders more, one fare structure option under consideration. Islander Debbi Lester arrived in Olympia bearing a letter from our City Council supporting the bill.

In it, council members pointed out that in ferry-dependent communities, commuter costs are felt far beyond the fare box, in increased hurt at gas stations and grocery stores. “Frequent users, including commuters are the backbone of the Washington State Ferry System,” the councilors’ letter read. “We need consistent, reasonable fares to keep this backbone in a strong support position.”

Added to that were the views of Vashon Islanders who turned out in the greatest force for the hearing. They reminded committee members that unlike landlocked communities served by the state highway system, islanders have few commuting options. As for a peak hour rate increase – an idea aimed at dispersing concentrated ferry traffic – they noted that island commuters would already happily avoid rush hour if given the choice.

A peak-hour fare increase would only add insult to the frustration of gridlock. After representatives of Kingston had chimed in, and acting WSF Director Steve Reinmuth had added his name to the unanimously supportive pool of public comment, legislators were left with an easy call.

The bill was voted out of committee Wednesday, a move we applaud. But while it’s a good step, the proposed law still falls flat in one respect. The original launguage had said the commission “shall” consider the desires of frequent users. To get the new legislation heard, wording was tweaked to replace “shall” with “may” – hardly a forceful mandate.

Several at the hearing said the bill should pack the punch of that stronger directive. We agree – show some spine.

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Corrections

• A Wednesday story on this weekend’s political caucuses inaccurately reported the requirement for voter registration. According to Carl Olson, chair of the Kitsap County Democratic Party, “When folks sign in this Saturday, they are declaring themselves to be registered to vote in the precinct whose caucus they’re attending and that they consider themselves to be a Democrat. Students who will be eligible to vote in November may post-date a voter registration form that day and actively participate as well.” Caucus locations and other information are at www.bainbridgereview.com.

• The photograph that accompanied Wednesday’s story on the Bainbridge Chinese New Year celebration was improperly credited. The photo appeared courtesy of the Seattle Chinese Orchestra.

Community Events, April 2014

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