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Kingston has its say about ferry fare hikes

KINGSTON — People who attended a Washington State Ferries open house Monday night in Kingston were less than happy that their ferry fares would increase in May, but their criticism was constructive.

“They’re not happy with the idea of fares going up but they seem to understand why we’re in the state we’re in,” said Pat Patterson, WSF spokeswoman. She manned the station that addressed funding needs, one of four at the meeting held at the Kingston Junior High Commons.

The meeting offered the approximately 30 people who attended a stark picture of ferry finances. The Tariff Policy Committee, the advisory group for the Transportation Commission, has recommended a 12.5 percent increase on most fares.

Ideally the ferries system wants fares to cover 80 percent of its operating costs. But that’s something some people who attended have a hard time swallowing.

“I’m disappointed with the 80 percent number. It’s so arbitrary, like they just picked it out of the air,” said Pam Dzama of Kingston. She commented that no public transportation can operate at an 80 percent recovery rate.

Dzama and others suggested separating the auto ferry and passenger only ferry services, something the WSF is already investigating.

Dzama commuted to Edmonds for 18 years and said the government should not have become so dependent on vehicle excise taxes.

“What I’m really concerned about is everything that is wrong right now is because of I-695,” Dzama said.

This is the second proposed fare hike in two years. The 12.5 percent increase, effective May 12, would bring in about $9 million in additional revenue. But another $15 million is expected to come from the Legislature.

“If they put tolls on Hwy 405, they would have plenty of money,” said Jimmy James, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee. He like many others who spoke, said that the ferry system is another highway system, not a luxury.

The advisory committee “keeps fighting for money for the system” James said. And it’s apparent the system needs more money.

According to WSF information, the ferries system still has about $25 million that is unfunded in this biennium. So a late night ferry from Edmonds and a passenger only boat out of Kingston have been put on hold.

The Kingston meeting was one of 12 open houses in the Puget Sound region.

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