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WSF could launch a 7.5 percent rate hike

SEATTLE — Ferry riders could see a 7.5 percent fare increase May 30, instead of the annual 5 percent. A revised fare proposal, which includes commuter tickets that still last 90 days, was voted on Wednesday by the Tariff Policy Committee.

On March 23, the State Transportation Commission will review the proposal, listen to input from the public and make a final decision.

Committee members also warned that they may have to pass an extra 15 to 20 percent fare increase in October if the Legislature fails to fund the budget gap left by soaring fuel prices.

“The good news is they’re dropping the tighter deadlines (for commuter fares),” said Vashon Islander Marilyn Omey, one of only three members of the public who attended the three-hour committee meeting.

The new proposal eliminates the shortened expirations for commuter books, and it also eliminates the proposed 5 percent tollbooth surcharge for seniors, the disabled, and youth; and the two-tiered system of discounting fares (the “convenience fares,” defined as five rides sold at a 15 percent discount).

The tariff committee voted to adopt all aspects of the revised fare proposal presented by the Washington State Ferries staff, but then voted to add the extra 2.5 percent fare increase after nearly three hours of discussion.

“It’s more honest and across-the-board, so it affects everyone equally,” said Vickie Mercer, chair of Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s Transportation Committee, of the extra increase.

WSF planner Ray Deardorf estimated the original proposal would have added $300,000 in 2006 and $1.7 million in 2007 to WSF coffers. Deardorf estimated that the new proposal will add $800,000 to WSF coffers in 2006 and $1.4 million in 2007. Deardorf also explained that if the committee wanted to ask for a higher rate increase, it would have to file a supplemental notice and reopen proceedings for public comment on that item.

Adding the 2.5 percent increase means more work for WSF staffers and a delay in the new fare implementation: fares will go up May 30 instead of May 1 if the plan is adopted.

Several committee members asked about voting in a more modest fare increase, 6 percent, in order to make up the shortfall that would result from dropping the tighter deadlines and “convenience fare” product. Deardorf explained that the fare increase rules are based on Bainbridge’s fare, currently at $10 per car and driver, and that, under current rules, the fare is only allowed to increase by 25 cent increments. The 5 percent increase would raise rates to $10.50 per car and driver. The next possible increment would be to raise the rate to $10.75 — a jump of 7.5 percent.

Committee Chair Alice Tawresey asked if there was a motion to overturn the 25-cent increment rule and change it to a 10-cent increment, but because the meeting was nearing the three-hour mark, committee members decided to consider changing the 25-cent increment rule next year.

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