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Ferry tickets to be carded

Despite an anticipated cold reception from ferry passengers, Washington State Ferries plan to stop offering discounted ticket books by the fall and will replace them with electronic cards.

Seeking to improve accountability and efficiency, the ferries plan to introduce a Smart Card system in the fall for an electronic fare collection system. The ferries also plan to build kiosks at the ferry terminals with machines for ferry passengers to swipe the smart cards. Cards will be available on the Internet or at the kiosks.

This is just one of several fare-related changes included in a fare proposal put forward by the Tariff Policy Committee, a ferry advisory committee. Ferry officials said the proposal likely will not be warmly received. The committee proposed a commuter multi-ride card offering a 20-percent discount and 30-day use period for frequent ferry commuters. Less frequent users may buy a convenience card, which pays for five round trips in 60 days. Convenience cards offer a 15-percent discount, which the ferries plan to lower to 10 percent in 2006.

The coupons now in place offer 10 round trips and a 90-day use period for everyone.

It’s just one of several changes proposed by the committee.

Other suggestions are an approximately 5-percent increase in ferry fares for one year. During peak season, the rate for a single car and driver would rise from $7.50 to approximately $7.88. Passenger fares would jump from $3.40 to about $3.57.

The committee also proposed allowing children up to the age of 6 to ride free. The present limit is 5. Passengers between six and 18 would still receive a 20-percent discount under the proposal.

Additional recommendations are allowing pre-purchase of single fare tickets. The tariff committee proposed that all pre-purchased tickets be valid for a period of seven days, and will count as partial payment for more expensive routes.

In addition, starting May 1, 2006, the Tariff Policy Committee recommends that all that all multi-ride cards be priced 5 percent higher if purchased at tollbooth rather than at an automated kiosk or online.

All fare changes would begin May 1 and, if approved, would be the third ferries fare increase in three years. No general fare increases were suggested for 2006.

The changes stem from a business plan the ferries developed to meet the state Legislature’s requirement several years ago that ferries should pay more of the cost of fuel, building new ferries and ferry operations out of the farebox.

The need for automated ticket machines comes from a long-time problem of accountability by commuters. Many ferry commuters were giving tickets to friends and family members, which was never the intention of the books, said tariff committee member and Clinton resident Jack Leengran.

“(The books) were designed and priced as a discount product for the commuter,” said Jack Leengran, a member of the tariff committee.

The system is also intended to increased efficiency at the terminal, said Susan Harris-Huether, a spokesperson for Washington State Ferries. Passengers can buy and renew the cards over the Internet and at ferry terminal kiosks rather than buy them at ticket booths, shortening traffic wait times. When the kiosks will be installed is still under discussion.

The ferry system will hold a number of public meetings to address fare increases and the introduction of electronic ticketing. Comments at the meeting, as well as those phoned, e-mailed and mailed to WSF will be taken into consideration.

In mid-March, the Transportation Commission will hold a public hearing in Seattle to take testimony concerning the proposal, review customer comments and make decisions based on the Tariff Policy Committee’s recommendations.

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