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"Ferry rate hike could be worseWhidbey Island residents will have a chance to comment on proposed ferry fare increases on Thursday, Feb. 8 when ferry officials host the public from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.It should be one of the calmer meetings ferry officials hold regarding the system-wide fare hikes. That's because Whidbey Island got off relatively easily. Vehicle and driver fares on on the Clinton-Mukilteo run will increase 50 cents, while passenger fares will go up 20 cents. Keystone-Port Townsend increases are similar. Elsewhere the news is more alarming. In the San Juans, ferry riders can expect to pay 28 percent more, and customers on the passenger-only ferries between Seattle and the Bremerton area will be walloped with a 143 percent increase.The rate increases this year are just the beginning. Hikes will be more common than seagulls over the next six years as the ferry system tries to make up for the huge budget deficit created by Initiative 695, which voters approved in 1999. That infamous initiative slashed car license tabs to $30, a a savings of hundreds of dollars for people who own newer, more expensive automobiles.The majority of South Whidbey residents opposed I-695, but they will still have to pay the price for its passage. Let's see, the new ferry rates will cost our hard working commuters another dollar a day on the Clinton-Mukilteo runs. That's $20 a month, or $240 annually. If you hear laughter, it's coming from the guy with the new Mercedes who lives next to the golf course and seldom has to take the ferry.Ferry construction work handled wellWashington State Ferries receives its share of criticism but little acclaim for such things as providing service that is over 90 percent dependable and, on South Whidbey, going beyond the call of duty during the Mukilteo wingwall construction project.Construction began in late November and continued through last Friday, closing the Mukilteo dock during the midday hours. During those hours the car ferries detoured to Edmonds and a special passenger-only ferry docked next to the ferry terminal in Mukilteo. Although there was some unavoidable inconvenience, everyone in Whidbey Island was able to get where they wanted to go when they wanted to be there.The passenger-only ferry was a late and welcome addition to the construction schedule plans. It made the difference between adequate service and excellent service. Complaints seemed to be few or nonexistent. Indeed, many people enjoyed the slower pace and beautiful scenery on the way to Edmonds, while others liked zipping across Puget Sound in less than 10 minutes in the passenger ferry.On top of that, the wingwall reconstruction job was finished on budget a full two weeks before the deadline. The entire affair was handled in a first class manner by Washington State Ferries, and Whidbey Island residents appreciate it. "