Ferry fare changes forthcoming

Starting this fall, ferry riders will see an increase in fares paid at the toll booth.

Starting this fall, ferry riders will see an increase in fares paid at the toll booth.

Members of the Washington State Transportation Commission voted on Thursday for a 4.25% hike in ticket prices for walk-on passengers and vehicles starting Oct. 1. But it’s not all bad news – a 1% discount on multi-ride tickets will be offered until Sept. 30, 2025.

Commissioners chose to approve this proposal from three options that were initially provided. The other two alternatives did not include discounts for multi-ride tickets.

The state legislature requires that $419 million in revenue be generated from ferry fares during a two-year period from 2023 to 2025. In order to meet this requirement, fares must increase by a proposed 4%.

During the meeting this week, Washington State Ferries staff explained to the public that if fares don’t increase, this will create a gap in revenue generation that will further affect ferry service operations and reliability.

Washington State Ferries held a series of community meetings this past spring to gather input on the proposed changes. Participants answering a poll at the end of the meetings overwhelmingly favored the option that the Washington State Transportation Commission ended up adopting Thursday.

Although an ample amount of time was set aside for public comment at this week’s meeting, only two ferry riders weighed in.

The commissioners ended up passing the 2023-2025 fare proposal in a 6-0 vote, with Commissioner Kelly Fukai of Spokane County absent from the meeting.

Commissioner Nicole Grant of King County acknowledged the frustration and concern so many people have shared about the current state of the ferry system, which she referred to as “the jewel of our state.”

“I think it is very hard for ferry users today, and a lot of us are ferry users. It’s a public system,” she said, adding that it has been difficult yet important to hear how degraded it has become with the lack of vessels.

“This isn’t a job that we relish today, to take a vote for an increase that’s larger than we’ve seen in a number of years in the face of reduced service and reliability, but hopefully this is a point where we’re turning a corner,” said Commissioner Debbie Young of San Juan County. “We’ve seen increased funding for capital expenses from the legislature, so hopefully we’ll get some contracts and boats in the works.”

Young added that she is looking forward to increasing reliability of the system, and is thankful for the patience of the riders.

The approved plan involves a 4.25% fare increase for passengers and vehicles on Oct. 1, 2023, and Oct. 1, 2024. The 1% multi-ride discount is also effective Oct. 1, 2023. Current discounts for multi-ride tickets range from 20% to 35%, depending on the route and summer season surcharges.

As part of the proposal that passed, the commission amended the current regulation for a ferry fuel surcharge, clarifying that a fuel surcharge can only be implemented after review and approval by the commission.