Commissioners recommend ferry fare increases this year and next

A state panel took the first step Tuesday to increase fares on Washington State Ferries this fall.

The Washington State Transportation Commission unanimously proposed a 2.5 percent hike for vehicles and 1 percent for passengers in cars and walk-ons. The increases would occur Oct. 1 and again May 1, 2016, under the recommendation endorsed by commissioners at their meeting in Spokane.

Public hearings on the proposal are planned in July with final action expected at the Aug. 4 commission meeting in Seattle.

The impetus for the price hike comes from state lawmakers. When they passed the 2015-17 transportation operating budget last month it assumed additional revenue from fares. Gov. Jay Inslee didn’t make any changes in the budget when he signed it June 11.

That budget counts on Washington State Ferries generating $357.2 million from fares in the next two years, which is $8.1 million more than this biennium.

On Tuesday, commissioners pondered two approaches — the blueprint drawn up by state ferry officials that they eventually backed and a slightly different tack from the citizens’ Ferry Advisory Committee on Tariffs.

Under the state agency proposal, walk-ons get a break in the form of a smaller increase. The advisory committee imposes the same percentage increase for vehicles, passengers and walk-ons.

The difference adds up to a few cents.

Drivers of a standard length vehicle — between 14 and 22 feet — would see the one-way fare on the Edmonds-Kingston route climb 35 cents in October and another 35 cents in May, according to a report prepared by WSF planning director Ray Deardorf. Passengers and walk-ons would pay a dime more in October and another 10 cents next year.

By comparison, the advisory committee called for a 2.12 percent increase on vehicles, passengers in cars and walk-ons. This would result in the cost going up 30 cents for drivers of standard vehicles each year and 15 cents for walk-ons and passengers.

In both scenarios, the actual amount of the increase will vary by route.

This year’s price-setting exercise isn’t new for the cash-strapped ferry system.

Fares have gone up nearly every year since 2007. The last increase took effect May 1, 2014, boosting passenger fares by 2 percent and vehicle fares by 2.5 percent.

For drivers of a standard length car it turned out to be a 20-cent increase in the regular one-way fare for the Mukilteo-Clinton route and 45 cents on the Edmonds-Kingston route.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; @dospueblos.

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