OLYMPIA — The cost of traveling on a Washington State Ferry could surge this year as Democratic lawmakers look for help to pay for constructing one new hybrid-electric ferry and converting two others.
Fares would climb 6 percent this fall and the capital surcharge, now a quarter, would rise to $1 on each vehicle fare, under the two-year transportation budget proposal released by House Democrats on Monday. Walk-ons would not see any change.
In addition, state ferries would start imposing a new fee on every transaction made with a credit card or debit card.
With the added revenue, House Democrats would earmark $99 million toward building of a new Olympia-class 144-car hybrid-electric vessel and $44 million for conversion of two of the Jumbo Mark II class ferries to run on electricity and diesel.
Ferry riders and area lawmakers said new boats are desired but making users shoulder the financial load doesn’t seem fair.
“If we were to swallow that size of fare increases, there would be push back,” said Dave Hoogerwerf, chairman of the Clinton Ferry Advisory Council.
Walt Elliott, of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Council, said that for people who depend on ferries “it is a lot of money. It is a question of equity.”
Both men testified Monday at the House Transportation Committee hearing on the proposed budget.
Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, a member of the panel, said what they articulated “makes a lot of sense.”
“Ferry riders want consistency and want to make sure riders are served well,” Paul said. “They are willing to contribute to get new boats built but they are frustrated that they are paying such a large share of capital and maintenance costs compared to users of other forms of transit.”
Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said she had not read the details of the proposal but was “very concerned about the rate increase and the impact it will have on ridership.”
Ferries are not the only item of local interest in the transportation budget.
It contains $2 million for the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector project which, when finished, will provide emergency and pedestrian access to the city’s waterfront.
And there is $1.8 million for the city of Everett for the design of a pedestrian bridge over North Broadway. It would link the main campus of Everett Community College with College Plaza, where a new Learning Resource Center and a replacement for Baker Hall are planned.
A vote on the House transportation plan could come this week.
In the meantime, Senate Democrats will issue their transportation proposal as early as Tuesday.
Once both chambers pass their respective budgets, budget writers will work to reconcile any differences.
The legislative session is scheduled to end April 28.