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State Transportation Commission adopts ferry fare changes, surcharge

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You'll pay 2.5 percent more to ride the state ferry, in addition to a 25 cent surcharge, come Oct. 1. The State Transportation Commission adopted changes to ferry fares at a hearing in Seattle on Aug. 24.
— image credit: Herald file photo / 2006

OLYMPIA — You'll pay 2.5 percent more to ride the state ferry, in addition to a 25 cent surcharge, come Oct. 1.

The State Transportation Commission adopted changes to ferry fares at a hearing in Seattle on Aug. 24.

The changes included a general fare increase of 2.5 percent on Oct. 1, and a 3 percent increase on May 1, 2012; a restructuring of car size-based fare categories; and the addition of a capital surcharge of 25 cents per fare.

The commission action is aimed toward meeting an overall revenue target of $310 million that must be raised by ferry fares between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2013, as required by the current Washington state transportation budget, enacted by the Legislature and governor.

The commission gathered public input on the proposal in eight ferry-served communities during July and August and received many comments by email and by mail.

Ten state legislators — including Sen. Christine Rolfes and Rep. Sherry Appleton of the 23rd District — wrote a letter to the commission before its hearing, supporting the 2.5 percent but opposing the 3 percent increase in 2012. "Ferry communities, like all communities, currently are suffering from the recession and this additional increase will impact families and the local economies," the letter states.

Legislators also opposed alternative fares for vehicles less than 14 feet, favoring incentives such boarding perks or allowing solo drivers to use carpool lanes. Alternative fares could force families that buy 10-ticket passes to have to buy a second pass for a second, different-size vehicle.

The commission action has five key elements:

— General fare increase: A 2.5 percent general fare increase takes effect Oct. 1, and an additional 3 percent general fare increase will take effect May 1, 2012. The May 2012 increase is intended to preclude the need for an increase in October 2012.

— Vehicle size category changes: The action creates a new size category for cars less than 14 feet, with the fare for small cars to be eventually 70 percent of the standard vehicle fare. This new fare category intends to encourage small car use to maximize the use of ferry deck space. This change will be phased in over three years, starting with the fare set at 90 percent of the standard vehicle fare on Oct. 1, 2011, and then set at 80 percent of the standard vehicle fare on May 1, 2012, and finally set at 70 percent of the standard vehicle fare in 2013 (phase three subject to future Commission approval).  Also, the standard vehicle size is redefined as 14 to 22 feet. Currently, the maximum length for a standard vehicle is 20 feet.

— The annual bicycle permit is eliminated and passengers paying with monthly passes, multi-ride cards, or an ORCA ePurse will be allowed to bring bicycles on board without additional charge. In the San Juan Islands, only passengers using multi-ride cards would be exempt from the bicycle surcharge.

— A fuel surcharge mechanism is put in place as a way to pay for unexpected spikes in fuel prices not funded under the current budget. The surcharge mechanism will only be triggered when fuel costs exceed the currently-funded average fuel price of $3.86 per gallon, by 2.5 percent. This means Washington State Ferries' fuel prices would have to increase to at least $4.08 per gallon to activate the surcharge. WSF will review fuel costs on a quarterly basis and, depending on fuel prices at the time of review, the surcharge may be applied, removed or adjusted higher or lower. The maximum surcharge amount is capped at 10 percent.  Any changes to the surcharge will require a 30-day advanced notice to customers.

— A system-wide capital surcharge of 25 cents per fare is added. The surcharge is required by law and is dedicated to funding WSF vessel replacement. The 25 cent surcharge will be assessed on every ticket issued, whether a one-way or roundtrip fare. Multi-ride and monthly passes will reflect the total per-ticket price.

In a letter to transportation commissioners, the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee questioned whether the commission had the authority to impose a fuel surcharge.

“Initiative 1053, passed last November, changed RCW 43.135.055(1) to state that fees can only be imposed or increased ‘if approved with majority legislative approval in both the House of Representatives and the Senate,’” the committee wrote. “In a December 20th opinion, the Attorney General affirmed that this requirement applies to ferry fares and that any approval for a surcharge granted before Initiative 1053 is insufficient to authorize surcharge imposition.”

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