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New ferry summer surcharge may start next year

Many island ferry riders are going to pay more to cross the water next year.

It isn’t a lot, but the “super summer surcharge” proposed by the Washington State Transportation Commission is one more in a long line of fare increases as the state tries to remedy a billion-dollar budget shortfall.

If the state follows through, beginning in 2010 all ferries in the system would add a

10-percent summer surcharge — on top of the current 25-percent peak summer rate — that would take effect between the end of June until the day after Labor Day.

Under the new guidelines, a car and driver on the Clinton-Mukilteo route would pay .86 cents more, or $9.46 for a one-way trip during the peak season.

The one-way fare for a truck longer than 30 feet would climb to $37.84 from the current $34.40.

There will be no impact on those who use multi-ride/frequent-user passes.

According to Roy Deardorf, Washington State Ferries finance director, the move will add

$1.1 million to the state’s coffers.

Deardorf told the commission before the vote that there is a long-term downturn in revenue expected in the years ahead. “The forecast doesn’t look good,” he said.

Depending on which prediction is accepted, the ferry system faces a budget shortfall of $1.3 billion to $3.5 billion during the next 20 years.

The Washington State Transportation Commission voted unanimously to approve the super summer surcharge on July 14. The move came as a surprise to Clinton Ferry Advisory Committee chairman Dave Hoogerwerf.

“What was very strange was that we already went through a six-month proposal to raise the base rates by 2.5 percent system-wide,” Hoogerwerf said. “Nobody on any of the ferry committees had heard about this before. They were incredulous that this vote would be taken, essentially outside the regular process.”

Normally, it takes six months before a tariff-increase change is passed after being proposed by ferry officials.

“They can pass it, change or vote it down, but not without a lot of public input,” Hoogerwerf explained.

He said the proposal came up quickly.

“It wasn’t on the agenda, and there was no comment period from the public. There wasn’t even a discussion, except how the commission would break the news to people who use the San Juan ferries,” Hoogerwerf said.

Reema Griffith, executive director of the transportation commission, said the super summer surcharge is not a done deal. Though the commission has voted to approve the surcharge, public hearings must be held before a subsequent vote can be taken to put the surcharge in place.

“We are legally obligated to have a complete public review,” she said.

Griffith added that since the state has the burden to deal with major capital expenses such as ferries and terminals, the public needs to assume a greater role in the cost of operations.

“The commission feels increased fares are reasonable, that the public should play a larger role,” she said.

Essentially, the commission has recommended going to a three-season fare schedule which targets recreational riders in the summer, Griffith said.

But Hoogerwerf said he has real concerns about what the increase will mean for commercial traffic.

“This is one more tax on South End businesses on top of everything else,” he said. Hoogerwerf’s committee is discussing how it will respond to the new fare increase. The commission has three hearings scheduled for later this summer, but none on Whidbey Island.

The state commission is a seven-member body of citizens appointed by the governor for six-year terms. As a public forum for transportation policy development, it proposes transportation policy for the state and coordinates state transportation planning.

The commission is designated the state tolling authority and sets all state highway and bridge tolls, as well as setting fares for Washington state ferries.

Sound off on surcharge

People who would like to comment on the

proposed 10-percent summer surcharge fare increase, but cannot attend the public meetings, can submit comments to the Washington State Transportation Commission via letter, e-mail or telephone, no later than 5 p.m., Friday, Sept. 4. Contact the commission at:

WSTC

PO Box 47308

Olympia, WA 98504-7308

E-mail: transc@wsdot.wa.gov

Telephone: 360-705-7070

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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