Ferry fare hike floats, summer surcharge sinks

The state Transportation Commission approved a general 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares Tuesday, but abandoned a controversial summer surcharge proposal.

Commissioners voted in favor of five fare tweaks, which will take effect Oct. 11, but torpedoed the summer surcharge in a 5-2 decision. The proposal would have added 10 percent to single-trip fares between late June and Labor Day.

Several commissioners voted against the surcharge after hearing from riders that the fare increase would burden senior citizens, low-income riders and commercial carriers, commission Executive Director Reema Griffith said.

The surcharge was lambasted in three public meetings this month, including one in Silverdale Sept. 1. Griffith said more than 200 comments were received in the lead-up to the vote.

“People were pretty consistently against (the surcharge),” Griffith said.

The commission floated the surcharge as a way of generating about $1.25 million in revenue. Commissioners were concerned that the Legislature’s projected revenue figures for ferries could come up short, especially if ridership tapered or fuel prices spiked.

Bob Distler of Orcas Island and Elmira Forner of Chelan County, were the only two commissioners to support the surcharge this week.

Following the vote, Distler said he was concerned that ferry riders will attack any new fees proposed, though new fees will likely be needed in the future to keep up with operations costs.

“I’m disappointed that the surcharge didn’t pass, mostly because it’s emblematic of a sense of entitlement among riders,” Distler said. “I’m not sure how we get around that.”

The 2.5 percent fare increase approved Tuesday will raise the cost of a one-way vehicle fare on Kitsap ferries from $11.55 to $11.85.

The increase was budgeted for by the Legislature.

The October fare hike will be the first in two years. A bill passed in 2007 froze fares through this month.

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