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WSF kicks up tumultuous waves

KINGSTON — Shortly before the Washington State Ferries fare proposal open house was set to begin Wednesday night, there was already a full house at the Kingston Cove Yacht Club. And a fairly angry house at that.

Commuters and frequent users of the ferry system eagerly crowded the room, voicing their opinions on what they did and didn’t like about the agency’s recently proposed changes to the fare system, especially those concerning alterations to the frequent user program.

Currently, riders can purchase frequent user books with 10 round trip tickets that can be used within 90 days. WSF is proposing to replace it with commuter and convenience cards. The commuter card allows 10 round trips in 30 days and the convenience card allows five round trips in 60 days. There would no longer be ticket books, rather travelers would have cards that they would swipe through an electronic reader.

“I just don’t know when we can plan all of that stuff,” said Kingston resident James Dzama about the medical, business and family trips he and his wife Pam make across the water — sometimes up to several times a week. “It’s going to be less of a convenience.”

Maxine and Denzil Walters, a retired couple living on President Point in Kingston, said they use the ferry about 10 times every five to six weeks to visit friends and go to the theater.

To decrease the number of days from 90 to 30 “would mean a big (financial) increase for us,” Denzil Walters said, referring to the need to purchase the commuter card more often. It would be much easier to deal with if the proposal was changed from 90 days to 45, he said.

Based on the survey data that WSF received from its riders, 80 percent of the users of the new system would not be affected by the change, said Michael Hodgins of Berk and Associates, which did the financial analysis of the fares for the policy committee. However, the other 20 percent would be forced to use either a comment or convenience card.

So far at the open houses, ferry riders have asked that the 90-day period remain intact, Hodgins said.

The elimination of the tickets and introduction of the new electronic card system didn’t make sense to some residents.

Kingston resident Doug Gordon said while he’s a daily commuter, the changes affect his entire family. He has a daily commuter pass, but he also purchases a ticket book.

“I have a (commuter) card, I can use that but I can’t use it for my daughter. I have to pay a fare,” Gordon said. “It’s sort of the life blood of the people who live here. We’re spending money as a family yet I can’t economize for my daughter.”

“Why does it matter who we give our ticket to?” Dzama added, noting that once the book is purchased, it’s paid for and it shouldn’t matter who uses it.

“Those cards might make it easier for the system, but not for folks,” Denzil Walters said.

“We knew it was going to be a contentious issue,” said Thom Ophein, the project manager for the electronic card system.

As for being able to use the card multiple times at once, which is called “passing back,” technically, it is possible, Ophein said, however, the fare policy dictates that it wouldn’t be allowed.

The other big disappointment of the night was the fact that legwislators and members of the policy committee were not present — just WSF management employees — and that people were given sheets of paper to comment on instead of a podium to speak from.

“You can’t come here and discuss the mandate,” Gordon said. “You can only come here and talk about the mechanical aspect of the electronic system.”

WSF program development and management director Bill Green said using the comment forms are the best way to get everyone’s opinions, not just the few who would tend to dominate a public hearing. Feedback will be forwarded to the state Transportation Commission for review.

“It gives people an equal say,” Green said, noting that policy proposals have been changed based on public comments in the past.

For more information about the fare proposal or to comment, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/index.cfm, e-mail tariff@wsdot.wa.gov or call (888) 808-7977.

Comments can be mailed to Tariff Proposal, 2911 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121. A public hearing will take place from 10 a.m. to noon March 23 at the PSRC Board Room at 1011 Western Ave. in Seattle.

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