Bremerton commuters vent anger over state's proposed fare increase

"If nothing else, the Tariff Policy Committee meeting conducted Tuesday evening in Bremerton was therapeutic.It gave ferry users a chance to vent frustrations over a looming fare increase, which would push passenger-only fares on the Bremerton-Seattle run from the current $3.70 to $9.A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 filled a conference room at the Howard Johnson Hotel to tell the Tariff Policy Committee, which advises the state Transportation Commission, exactly what they thought of the proposal to ask commuters to cover 80 percent of the Washington State Ferries' operating costs.The Tariff Policy Committee proposed the fare hike to bail WSF out of a funding crisis caused by elimination of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. The WSF faces a shortfall of $281 million - $83.8 million in operating expenses, $197.2 million in capital expenses - over the next two years.Everyone offering testimony at the Feb. 13 meeting opposed the fare increase.Many, like truck driver Rick Hanson of Bremerton, said commuters are willing to pay higher fares. But the Tariff Policy Committee's proposal, especially on passenger-only ferries, was characterized as too much, too soon.Most of these people out here, Hanson said, motioning to the crowd, are willing to pay a little more. But y'all need to get expenses down.Charise Edwards, a recent University of Washington grad who uses passenger-only ferries to get to work in Seattle, said the WSF should consider cutting back its workforce.If you ride any of the boats in the morning, you'll notice that there are three (WSF employees) there, she said. One is taking tickets and two are talking to each other.John Norris of Silverdale called on Kitsap's legislators, many of whom were in attendance, to look for increased efficiencies in the WSF, Department of Transportation and other state agencies.Why is it that whenever there's a crisis, and this is a crisis, the answer is always increased taxes ... or fares? Norris asked.Several commuters said they would move out of the area as a result of increased commuting costs. Some said the sharp fare increase on the passenger-only ferries Chinook and Snohomish would force commuters to walk on to the already overloaded Bremerton auto ferries.Others recommended saving money by doing away with sparsely-used mid-day auto ferry runs.Alice Tawresey, a Bainbridge Islander and chair of the Tariff Policy Committee, said those sorts of suggestions were what the committee was looking for.I know (passenger-only ferries are) why you're here tonight, and I know you'll back up your anger with lots of reason why this doesn't make sense, Tawresey said, stressing the word 'reasons.' That's what we're looking for, reasons.Tawresey said the fare hike proposal isn't a done deal. The Tariff Policy Committee will meet early next month to consider public comment, and probably come up with a revised recommendation prior to a March 28 Transportation Commission hearing.Louis Mitchell of Bremerton disagreed with that assessment.It seems like there's been considerable expense put into indoctrinating us for what seems to be a foregone conclusion, Mitchell said. It's not whether it's going to happen, it's going happen and you'd better get your 2 cents in now.Another Bremerton commuter, Diane Smart, said the fare increases would further cripple an already struggling town.One of the Seattle newspapers a few months ago referred to Bremerton as 'The town that couldn't catch a break,' she said. This seems like another example of that. "

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