Ferry fares will float higher

Washington State Ferries plans to increase ticket prices by an average of 12 percent beginning in May.

Whidbey Island ferry users won't suffer as much as some. A car-driver ticket on the Mukilteo-Clinton route will go up from $5 to $5.50 under the proposal during the off-peak winter months. The same ticket during the busier spring and summer months will cost $7, an increase from the present $6.25. Car-driver ticket books for frequent ferry users will increase from $80 to $88.

For the comparatively few who use the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry, rates won't go up at all, according to Ray Deardorf, planning director for Washington State Ferries.

Deardorf explained Wednesday that an effort is being made to bring ticket prices in line with the length of the route. At present, he said, the Keystone-Port Townsend ticket prices match its 4.5 mile length.

Clinton-Mukilteo is the shortest route at 2.6 miles, therefore ticket prices are the lowest.

Ferry ticket costs will continue to skyrocket for the lengthy trips to the San Juan Islands. Deardorf said fares in the San Juans are scheduled to increase 17.5 percent if the Washington State Transportation Commission approves the recommendations. This comes on top of a rate increase of over 20 percent last year. The distance from Anacortes to Friday Harbor is 18.2 miles.

For many years ferry rate increases barely kept up with inflation, but they have increased rapidly during the last two years due to voter-approved Initiative 695. The "$30 license tab initiative" hit the ferry system hard, Deardorf said, and it's been trying to catch up ever since.

Deardorf said the 2001 Legislature asked that Washington State Ferries set a goal of meeting 80 percent of operating costs through the fare box. This is the second year of a six-year effort to achieve that goal. Whether WSF can reach that goal is still up in the air.

"It remains to be seen," Deardorf said.

As ticket prices increase, ridership is expected to decline, thereby reducing revenues. Deardorf said ridership declined about 3.5 percent after last year's increases, "but that was better than anticipated."

Fare increases are scheduled to take effect May 12. First, there will be a series of public hearings, including one on Whidbey Island set for Feb. 25 from 7-9 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. The state transportation commissions is scheduled to take final action April 4 on rate increases.

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