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Ferry fare proposal adds summer surcharge

A last minute addition to a Transportation Commission fare proposal could boost the price of single-ride ferry tickets by 10 percent next summer.

The “summer surcharge” would apply to single-trip tickets sold between the end of June and Labor Day. It would be added to the existing peak season pricing.

The summer surcharge is part of a package of proposed fare changes, which the Transportation Commission will bring before the public at a series of meetings. A meeting in Silverdale is scheduled for Sept. 1 and comments can be submitted until Sept. 4 (See box, above right). The fare changes will likely be voted on by the commission Sept. 8.

Also included in the proposal is a general fare increase of 2.5 percent, which was approved by the Legislature.

The addition of the summer surcharge came as a surprise to some state representatives and ferry advisory committee members. The surcharge proposal was not mentioned in the agenda for the meeting, though other proposed fare changes were detailed.

State Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, called the move a “cavalier approach to raising revenue.”

“(The Legislature) had budgeted for a potential increase of 2.5 percent,” Rolfes said. “We did not budget or even discuss a summer surcharge like the one they have come up with.”

Transportation Commision members could not be reached for comment by press time. A statement from commission Chairwoman Carol Moser said the commission had proposed fare increases above those budgeted by the Legislature in part to avoid a surprise shortfall.

“We have experienced persistent underestimation of ferry costs and overestimation of ferry revenues for a number of years,” Moser wrote. “These shortfalls have required the legislature to cover those amounts with supplemental budgets, even during times when there are no available funds to do so.”

Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee Chair Walt Elliott said he doubts the summer surcharge will make a significant difference in revenue, and could backfire on the Washington State Ferries by driving down ridership.

“It’s a risky strategy with no apparent benefit,” Elliott said.

The Kingston FAC has also questioned whether the commission is doing its due diligence in vetting the proposal. The commission has the authority to modify existing fares but to create a new fare category or “pricing strategy” (a fare that’s designed to change rider habits to maximize use of boats) it must follow a lengthy public process, Elliot said.

Elliott said the FAC believes the summer surcharge counts as a pricing strategy, and should have been subject to a rider impact study along with public meetings.

Barring that, Elliott hopes the upcoming meetings are well attended, as does Rolfes.

“I’m personally not pleased with (the commission’s) proposal,” Rolfes said. “I’ve told them that and I hope they get an earful.”

How to comment:

In person: Tuesday, Sept. 1 from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Silverdale Beach Hotel or on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1-5 p.m. in Seattle at the Puget Sound Regional Council, 1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500 (about 2 blocks from the Colman dock).

You can also comment before Friday Sept. 4 by writing WSTC, PO Box 47308, Olympia, WA 98504-7308, e-mailing transc@wsdot.wa.gov or a calling to (360) 705-7070.

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