Letter: Will state ferries become service only for wealthy?

Editor,

It’s easy for us average people to despair over the enormous problems confronting our nation and the world. But beyond these overwhelming issues are local problems we could—all of us—solve. We can take the time to educate ourselves about what is happening in our communities and local governments.

Our ferry system is an example of where Whidbey resident activism is sorely needed.

This past Tuesday, my husband and I attended the downtown Seattle meeting of the Puget Sound Regional Council, which voted to approve hikes for passenger and car fares in October 2019 and May 2020, along with a capital surcharge, which is expected to add 50 cents on each fare. Residents need to look at these fare increases carefully; I fear this is just an acceleration of regular ongoing increases that threaten to become unsustainable by Washington State Ferries ridership.

Members of WSF planning management cited an online survey in which 60 percent of responding ferry users favored the capital surcharge increase and 63 percent opposed the fare increase. The total number of responses received: 1,643. This is hardly an overwhelming endorsement of fare increases.

Given that islanders are socked with fare increases every few years, I wonder when the hikes will end. Will we become an island where only rich people can afford to take the ferry? Could we be looking at $50 round-trip between Clinton and Mukilteo in a few more years?

I took the opportunity to speak before the council, and I mentioned that fare increases not only affect the ability for residents to travel to and from the island, but also that the hikes will lead directly to higher costs on everything trucked to the island including groceries, building materials, contractor and other off island services. Most of us older folk are likely to have much more need to seek secondary and tertiary medical care on the mainland at a time when health care cost increases are squeezing us out.

Any additional cost is passed along to all of us regardless of ferry ridership. I also explained that the survey does not represent a realistic sample of our population, given that we have elderly on fixed incomes, people working for minimum wages, limited low cost housing, and people who do not have internet access or read our local newspapers. These people are unlikely to participate in a survey or even to be aware of the public meetings.

I was further dismayed that the council discussion did not address other possible sources for ferry service funding. It seems they think ridership should be the sole source of revenue to build new boats. Other members of the public spoke dismissively of people who lived on the islands as being “elitists” unworthy of tax dollar support of ferry service. I have seen no rebuttal of increased fares from the Island County commissioners, state Rep. Norma Smith, state Sen. Barbara Bailey or state Rep. Dave Paul, nor the local Whidbey Island ferry representatives.

My husband and I were the only two Whidbey residents present to personally protest the fares. As you will read in the South Whidbey Record, all fares were approved. If more island residents had been in attendance to raise their voices in protest, would the fare increases have been the same? WSF’s proposed low-income fare scale sounds good, but how does it get implemented? Will residents need to show their tax returns to validate their qualifying status? An embarrassing task.

Democracy is not given and must be protected each and every day. How best to do that? Please watch carefully what your government is doing, and then show up to protest when it seems wrong and unfair. Everything depends on good citizens doing the right thing and making sure their views are heard before it is too late.

Paulette Becker

Langley

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