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State approves another ferry fare hike

Expect to shell out more dough at the ferry booth in May.

The Washington State Transportation Commission approved a 5-percent increase on ferry fares on March 20 that will take effect May 4. Increases will be be made in two phases, with the second taking place in May 2004. The increase is the second approved in two years by the state.

Susan Harris-Huether, spokeswoman for Washington State Ferries, said Whidbey Island riders -- who will see the current price of $5.50 for a car and driver increase by 50 cents on the Clinton-Mukilteo run over the next year -- will feel less of the increase than riders on longer routes. Keystone-Port Townsend riders will see the price of a fare jump 75 cents.

Harris-Huether said she doesn't believe the increases are more than riders can bear.

"It's still a very reasonable rate," said.

Langley resident Jack Leengran, a member of Whidbey Island's Ferry Advisory Committee agreed with Harris-Huether.

"We're getting a pretty good deal at this point," Leengran said.

Leengran said raising fares has become an ongoing necessity because the state is not able to "give money away." He said Washington State Ferries needs to make more money to cover a larger percentage of their operating expenses. At present, the Clinton-Mukilteo run generates enough revenue to pay for a little more than 90 percent of expenses.

Without the increase, the ferry system would have to look at cutting back on service.

"It's never easy to raise your rates," said Harris-Huether. "In these hard times you have to do what you can to sustain your service."

Harris-Huether said some routes are facing schedule changes as certain runs are cancelled. She said the DOT is looking at ways to improve ferry fuel efficiency and consumption.

The two-year proposal was approved after two weeks of public open houses and two months of public comments, according to the DOT. The only changes to the proposal were made after the trucking industry voiced concerns to the tariff policy committee regarding the high prices of commercial tariffs in the San Juans.

Currently the car and driver rate for the Mukilteo-Clinton route is $5.50. On May 4 the price will rise to $5.75. After June 14, when peak season rates go into effect, the price will rise again to $7.25.

The price increase doesn't just change the rates; percentages saved on frequent-rider books will also drop.

The percentage discounted on frequent-rider discounts will go down from a 25-percent savings to 20 percent. Youth discounts will drop from 30 percent to 20 percent, according to the DOT.

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