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Ferry fares rising

Island living just got more expensive.

The cost of traveling from South Whidbey to the mainland is going up three weeks from now, when Washington State Ferries raises ticket prices an average of 12.5 percent systemwide.

Making the increase more painful is the timing, since the peak season surcharge begins on May 12, the same day the rate increases take effect. The double whammy will hit commuters like Bob Berggren of Clinton the hardest. He said he has no choice but to pay the higher price for himself and his car.

"I work on the other side, so I don't have a choice but to pay whatever they charge," he said this week. "Public transportation is not convenient for me, so I drive on and off every day."

According to Susan Harris, a spokeswoman for the ferry system, the size of the increase depends on the run.

At the Clinton dock, car and driver fares are being rounded up to the next quarter, and passenger fares to the next dime. Eco-sensitive bicycle riders will take a hit, too, with an increase of 10 cents on most routes, including Clinton-Mukilteo, where it goes to $1.

Vanpool and carpool fees will double, from $10 to $20 per year.

The peak-season fare for a car and driver -- one of the most common fares purchased on the Clinton to Mukilteo run -- jumps from $5 to $7. Motorcycle fares rise from $2.70 to $3.

Passenger fares increase from $2.70 to $3.10, while seniors will pay $1.50, an increase of 20 cents.

Coupon book prices are up as well, but they will still be a better deal than individual tickets. Auto driver books are going from $80 to $88; motorcycle driver books from $35.20 to $40.00; and passenger books from $19 to $23.25. Those who travel more frequently will actually save $2.50 on the monthly passenger pass, which is decreasing from $39.70 to $37.20 on this route.

Leah Brand of Clinton, a coupon book purchaser, said she's resigned to paying more for her four-day-a-week commute.

"It seems like a huge jump in price to me. It surprises me that they would hike the passenger books so much when we are trying to do the right thing by not taking a car and using public transportation. I know they have to raise them, but I thought they would do it more incrementally," she said.

Harris said the ferry system believes the price increase on indivual tickets will create more of a demand for ticket books.

"The best discounts are available for the more frequent users," she said.

To accommodate the expected high demand for passenger passes, WSF plans to use retail outlets in ferry communities to sell the monthly passenger pass, currently available online. But to date, no retail stores on South Whidbey have agreed to take on the task.

"We have been turned down by all the grocery stores on South Whidbey," Harris said.

Passes sold through retail outlets will include a $1 handling fee.

Ray Deardorf, planning director for WSF, said he is forecasting a drop in ridership due to the fare increase. He said riders will probably make more "discretionary trips." However, he said, the decrease probably won't be drastic on the Clinton-Mukilteo route.

Harris said the new fare increases were adopted based on recommendations from the state's Tariff Policy Committee and comments from state residents. The committee approved the increases last week. WSF sponsored open houses in all ferry-served communities prior to the hearing before the WTC. South Whidbey residents had their chance to comment on Feb. 25 in Freeland.

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