Ferry users asked to comment on proposed fare hikes

"Mark your calendars, Kitsap ferry commuters, because transportation officials plan to conduct a series of public meetings in Kitsap County next month during a comprehensive public review of proposed ferry fare hikes.The decision to launch the public meeting campaign came Jan. 19, two days after the Tariff Policy Committee presented the Transportation Commission with a ferry fare hike proposal package. The committee recommends central sound fare increases of 20 percent starting in May, with some adjustments for variables like route length. The plan is in line with policies already presented by the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation and the Joint Legislative Task Force on Ferries.The meetings are intended to explain the proposed new fare structure, and to allow ferry patrons to submit comments.Committee chairwoman and former city of Winslow Mayor Alice Tawresey said attendees could expect to find display boards chock full of information about the rate hike proposals. Tawresey said comment forms could be handed out at the meetings as well. Comments and information submitted during these public meetings will be considered again when the Tariff Policy Committee meets in March, she said.Once public input is accounted for, the tariff committee is expected to craft a final fare structure recommendation. That final recommendation will then be passed to the Transportation Commission, said Tawresey.The Transportation Commission is the only body with authority to change the cost of a ferry ride.The Transportation Commission asked the Tariff Policy Committee to review fares after the fallout from Initiative 695 cut the WSF operating budget by about 20 percent and the WSF capital budget by about 75 percent.So the committee, which consists of community members, ferry users and various elected officials, developed a new fare proposal. It aims to have fares account for 80 percent of the ferry system's operating costs.According to the tariff committee, the first step toward recovering 80 percent of WSF's operating costs is to implement a 20 percent across-the-board fare increase, rounded to the quarter for vehicles and to the dime for passenger fares. The new fare schedule would raise the cost of a passenger commuter booklet in the central sound region from about $26 to $31.50. Meanwhile, the same booklet for autos could jump from $104 to $128 in the central sound region.The tariff committee also is proposing a time-based rate structure under which longer routes would cost more. The Bainbridge, Vashon, Kingston and Bremerton ferry routes could share the same fare structure, however, so that ferry traffic is spread more equally among these routes. Passenger-only ferry tickets could jump up as well. According to information provided Jan. 16 by the tariff committee, a passenger-only ferry commuter booklet could jump from $26 to $63 for the Bremerton and Vashon routes.If the Transportation Commission approves changes to the WSF fare structure, which would take effect May 13, WSF won't offer refunds on unused portions of frequent user ticket books purchased after May 12. Officials say that is consistent with practices employed by other transit systems. "

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