"Rate hike zaps wallets, ferry dock staff"
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:39 PM
"Jody Hendrickson directs traffic on the Clinton ferry dock. Washington State Ferries has reduced staffing on the dock and is increasing fares as of June 3 to make up for a budget shortfall caused by voter approval of Initiative 695.Matt Johnson / staff photoWith permission in hand from the State Legislature, the Washington State Ferry system will increase the price of its ferry tickets on June 3.Individual ticket prices on the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry run are expected to jump 50 cents for a car and driver in June and 25 cents for walk-on passengers.Ferry riders who buy frequent rider books will feel the sting of the hike almost as acutely. Individual tickets in those books will be 40 cents more expensive starting June 3. Systemwide, fares are up an average of 20 percent.The price increases come after months of public meetings around the Puget Sound area in which ferry executives told ferry riders that the price would go up no matter how much they complained and protested. One of these meetings was held in Freeland in February. Though nearly every South Whidbey ferry rider at the meeting said increased ticket prices would be a hardship for them, Terry McCarty, State Ferries' interim director, said his agency's budget has been so severely cut by the passage of Initiative 695 that it has no choice. Faced with next month's price hike, ferry riders are now bracing for the higher cost. Gary Warstler, a Langley-area resident who commutes daily to his job as a chef in Kirkland, said this week that even the 20-cent increase for his passenger tickets makes his strategy of parking a car in Mukilteo and walking onto the ferry less of a good deal. Over the course of the next year, he will have to pay about $50 more for ferry tickets than he did under the old rate structure.It's certainly going to impact cash flow at the house, he said.Daily commuters could also take a monetary hit on their ticket books if they do not use them with some care. State Ferries will no longer give refunds to ticket book holders for unused portions of ticket books purchased after June 2. In the past, ticket book holders could exchange tickets that were about to expire for new tickets. Ticket books purchased prior to June 2 are valid only until June 7, even if they expire later than that date. Unused tickets in those books may be exchanged for a credit on new ticket books, or can be submitted for a pro-rated refund until Sept. 1.Warstler and other passengers on the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry are not the only people taking a financial hit because of the ferry system's money crunch. Ferry employees at the Clinton-Mukilteo dock could see their working hours reduced if an efficiency audit shows the dock crew can make do with less. Dock manager Winnie Yabe said State Ferries has already cut the dock pointer position from her staff and is looking at all its facilities to determine if it can cut personnel costs. The person in the Clinton pointer position had the job of directing drivers into lanes after they purchase tickets at the ticket booths. Ticket sellers now have that added responsibility. Outside of that cut, the Clinton staff has been lucky. No other employee hours have been reduced. "