Ferries go to 90-day card expirations

The practice of sharing tickets for a ferry ride is coming to an end, but one local resident may not watch it fade away without a fight.

At a meeting Monday called by Washington State Ferries to publicize amendments to the state ferry fares, Freeland resident CW Bauer was the most outspoken person in the room when he angrily protested a plan by the state ferries to replace the 20-ride, 90-day coupon books with cardboard pass cards by late fall. He said he and his wife frequently drive separately on the ferry and share tickets. With the cards, Bauer said, he and his wife will need to buy separate cards, cards which they might not use in their entirety.

“That is rotten, that stinks,” he said. “The state ferries are making things inconvenient, when they should make things convenient.”

Bauer’s viewpoint was one side of a debate smoldering among ferry users around Puget Sound. Washington State Ferries is making changes to its fare schedule and to the way in which fares are collected to reduce financial losses at the toll booth and to streamline its system of getting vehicles and passengers onto its boats. The changes could be approved by the state transportation commission as early as April 26.

There were varied viewpoints on the subject of multi-use ticket books and cards, as well as other subjects brought up at the meeting, held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. A few people attending the meeting even wanted more changes than the ferry system was proposing. A nearly 60-percent increase in state ferries management costs, free ferry rides for ferry employees and their families, and the high cost of naval architects received particular attention from the public.

But the main topic of discussion was how ferry riders would pay their fares and get aboard the boats. WSF has drawn up a plan that calls for installing electronic ticket kiosks at all terminals, kiosks that will sell ferry riders single ride or multi-ride tickets. Tickets will also be available online and will be available for purchase at ferry toll booths.

Also aired at the meeting were the proposed new fares for the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry run. The price of a ride for a car and driver is planned to increase from $6 to $6.30 during non-peak season. Passenger fares would increase from $3.40 to $3.60.

The increased fares are intended to cover the revenue lost from the passage of Initiative 695, which took motor vehicle excise tax revenues away from the ferry system.

When it came to allaying the fears of commuters who may be forced to use multi-ride cards in the future, WSF planning director Ray Deardorf said the ferry system will stick with the 90-expiration period currently applied to commuter ticket books. His statement reflects widespread opposition to a system under which WSF would have sold fare cards with 30- or 60-day expiration periods, opposition that showed up in numerous comments submitted to the ferry system.

Also questioned were public figures showing the ferry system’s expenditure of $7 million annually on architects, and a 58-percent increase in the cost of ferry management over the past six years. Responding to the first concern, WSF spokesperson Susan Harris-Huether said that even though WSF is not building new ferries each year, architects are needed constantly for refit work on existing boats.

Deardorf took the question related to management costs. He said the 58-percent increase reflects the inclusion of many new costs previously unaccounted for in management.

Getting to the public questioning of the free ferry trips given to ferry employees and their families, Deardorf said this is part of a union bargaining agreement.

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