Legislators struggling to keep ferries on life support

"Legislators are scrambling to bail out a few of the runs Washington State Ferries plans to dump in June. Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-35th District, is working on consensus among state lawmakers who represent ferry-served areas. The overall theme is to keep the ferries afloat, she said. The process is keeping an open mind, and looking at a lot of different options.But until a new plan for passenger-only ferry operation can be developed and implemented, Haigh hopes to keep the Vashon Island-to-downtown Seattle passenger run afloat. It is the only current route that will be cut entirely. We need to maintain passenger-only ferry service at some level until we get a permanent fix, Haigh said. She said she wants the Legislature to come up with $1.2 million to provide bare-bones service to Vashon only on weekdays during commuter hours for a year.For state Sen. Betti Sheldon (D-23rd District), a passenger ferry cut means ferry officials must redouble their support of car ferries. Without passenger ferries, a reduction in auto ferry service is the one thing we don't need right now, Sheldon said. Without passenger ferry service in the short term, we need to backfill to keep auto ferries going.Car ferries will take over all passenger traffic, but since the court-mandated slowdown of the high-speed Chinook and Snohomish passenger ferries last August, speed isn't an issue. It takes the auto ferries about five extra minutes to cross the sound.Haigh believes ferries will disappear without some tax support, and she said privatization is not viable. No ferry system, no bus or train, can operate without some kind of government subsidy, Haigh said."

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