Commission shoots down ferries’ summer surcharge

Fares on Washington ferries won’t go up and up.

They’ll just go up.

The Washington State Transportation Commission approved a 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares last week. But commissioners rejected a 10-percent “summer surcharge” that would be added on top of the current 25-percent peak summer rate. The summer surcharge would have been added to driver and passenger fares between the end of June until the day after Labor Day.

The new 2.5 percent increase will take effect Oct. 11.

But travelers on the Clinton-Mukilteo route said Monday they were glad the commission shot down the proposed summer surcharge, which would have pushed a one-way trip fare for a car and driver on the Clinton/Mukilteo route during the peak season to $9.46, an increase of 86 cents.

“I’m glad. It’s expensive enough. It doesn’t need to be more,” said Kaley Gracom of Clinton.

Bill O’Brien of Clinton said he was happy the proposal was dropped. An increase in fares would be difficult for a lot of travelers.

Though he knows the ferry system is looking for additional revenue, he said the agency should look inward rather than outward. Cutting wasteful spending could be a start.

“There’s a lot of wasted manpower on these boats. I look around and think, ‘Wow,’” he said.

Ferry riders who visit Whidbey for business also praised the rejection of the proposed summer surcharge.

Adam Fischer of Seattle said it was unfair to raise fares on ferries when the fares for other forms of subsidized transit — such as buses and light rail — aren’t raised during the times when there are more riders.

Jason Swofford said the fare increases seem never-ending.

“My family lives on Bainbridge,” Swofford said. “It’s a killer; every time you go, it’s just more and more and more.”

Swofford was on Whidbey on Monday for a job where he helped install window screens.

“It seems like all they want to do is raise the price on you. And the service doesn’t get any better.”

“If they stopped running into the dock, maybe they could keep the cost down,” he added. “Or maybe if they paid the captains a little less.”

The rejection of the summer surcharge was a retreat of sorts for the Washington State Transportation Commission. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the summer surcharge on July 14; last week, it fell to defeat in a 5-2 vote.

Public opposition to the surcharge was strong, though only a small minority of the ferry-riding public — about 220 — sounded off on the proposal, said Reema Griffith, executive director of the transportation commission.

“The people that did turn out had an impact,” Griffith said.

“People consistently provided reasonable reasons why it was not the right time and why it was not the right thing to do,” she said.

The 2.5-percent increase was the first across-the-board fare hike approved in two years.

Fares will rise to $6.90 from $6.70; the car and driver rate will go from $11.55 to $11.85.

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