Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council plan would ease foot ferries' pain

"With the future of the passenger-only ferry fleet appearing dim, the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council has spent several weeks crafting an alternative fare structure.A state Tariff Policy Committee proposal currently being considered would increase passenger-only fares from $3.70 to $9 a ticket. The KRCC alternative calls for spreading fare increases more evenly among Kitsap and Vashon Island routes, so POF commuters aren't the hardest hit. The KRCC plan would add a surcharge, which would be earmarked toward expansion of the passenger-only system. The KRCC and WSF estimate surcharges could yield an additional $1 million annually.County Commissioner Tim Botkin, one of the KRCC members who helped craft the alternative, said the concept allows Kitsap commuters to spend funds on passenger-only ferries and see those funds remain in the local area.Under the Tariff Policy Committee plan, passenger fare on auto ferries would jump from the current $3.70 to $4.50 in May of this year, and reach $6.50 by 2006.Passenger-only fares would go from the present $3.70 to $9 in May, and ultimately to $13. The KRCC plan would equalize passenger fares on all ferries. To raise the same amount of money as under the TPC proposal, the KRCC would boost the recommended fares on the big auto ferries by 40 cents.A surcharge of 25 cents would be added on the auto ferries running to Kitsap County and Vashon, and $1.25 on the foot ferries. That money would be directed into a separate fund for Kitsap County ferry transportation improvements, and eventually expanded passenger-only service.Under the KRCC proposal, passenger fares to Bainbridge, Kingston and Bremerton would be $5.15 on the auto boats, and $6.15 on the passenger only boats. This proposal does not affect car-and-driver fares.Passenger-only service is extremely valuable to Kitsap County and to others as a reliever of congestion, Botkin said. When we're trying to get people out of their cars, it makes no sense to penalize riders in passenger-only boats.Although ferry fares are set by the Transportation Commission, not the Legislature, legislation would be required to segregate the proposed surcharge for Kitsap County use.Botkin said that the alternative proposal is receiving support from local legislators, but some lawmakers still have reservations.Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, isn't sure the KRCC's alternative fare structure is fair to other Kitsap commuters.Rockefeller says he's particularly troubled by the fact that, if the KRCC alternative is adopted, auto ferry commuters would be asked to carry a greater burden than the Tariff Policy Committee is asking them to do now.What this proposal seems to do is transfer the impact to other commuters who are already being burdened with fare hikes, said Rockefeller. Botkin acknowledged that representatives do have questions, and he and the KRCC will address them.But Bainbridge Island Mayor Dwight Sutton said he supports the KRCC plan, on the grounds that preserving and expanding the passenger-only system has substantial long-range benefits.Right now it sounds like we're punishing ourselves, Sutton said. But this plan could put money down towards service to Kingston and Southworth.Meanwhile, the KRCC plans to discuss the alternative concept with the general public and commuters over the next several days. "

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