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Crowd cries foul on ferry fare proposal

Commuter Mark Hanna spends about $6,000 a year on ferry travel. Next year, he’ll be doling out at least $150 more, if the state Transportation Commission approves a fare proposal this month.

Hanna was among a crowd of about 20 Kitsap residents who were overwhelmingly critical of the proposed fare hikes at a meeting at the Silverdale Beach Hotel Tuesday evening.

“An increase is an increase, is an increase, as far as I’m concerned,” Hanna told commission members. “Where are the creative solutions? I haven’t heard any.”

The Transportation Commission’s fare proposal includes six provisions, but just two would have a significant impact on central Puget Sound ferry riders.

The first is a 2.5 percent increase in ticket prices, a measure recommended by the Legislature earlier this year. The second is a 10 percent surcharge that would be tacked on to single-trip tickets between June 24 and Sept. 7.

The commission expects the surcharge would raise about $1.25 million but would drive away up to 10,000 ferry riders, said Transportation Commission member Bob Distler of Orcas Island.

The proposal will likely be voted on Sept. 8. The changes would go in to effect Oct. 11.

The commission has drawn fire for proposing fare increases above the 2.5 percent outlined by the Legislature.

But Distler said the commission was concerned the state was underestimating the ferry system’s expenses, especially with fuel prices on the rise.

“Unfortunately, the budget is based on assumptions at any given time,” Distler said.

The commission’s approach had no fans among the residents who spoke at the meeting Tuesday.

State Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) understood the Legislature intended to cap this year’s fare increase at 2.5 percent.

“We feel very strongly that that amount needs to be honored,” Angel said.

Others at the meeting said the summer surcharge will put an undue burden on tourists, infrequent riders and low-income riders who don’t buy the discounted multi-ride passes.

Hansville resident Carla Martin is a retiree who rides the ferries only occasionally to attend medical appointments or cultural events. Many infrequent riders are still dependent on Washington State Ferries, she said, and would take a hit from the summer surcharge.

“I think there’s a piece of the constituent that gets missed,” she said.

Commission member Dan O’Neal said the commission hadn’t considered the impact to infrequent riders and will need to study the issue before a proposal is passed.

Distler said he believed the fare hikes would have a minimal impact on most riders, but said he wasn’t surprised by the negative reactions.

“The amount of money we’re talking about is relatively small,” he said. “The problem, of course, is that the base ferry fare, forgetting the summer surcharge or the extra surcharge, today’s ferry fare is quite high, you’re all right about that.”

While fare increases were the focus of debate, the commission’s public outreach efforts also were verbally bludgeoned Tuesday.

The commission has held three meetings to discuss the fare proposal, one aboard a San Juan Islands ferry, one on Vashon Island and the Silverdale meeting. A final public hearing will take place Sept. 8 in Seattle.

South Whidbey resident Dave Hoogerwerf rode two ferries to join the Silverdale discussion and criticized the sparse meeting schedule.

“It seems like the process this year has been very rushed,” Hoogerwerf said. “Every indication suggests this is a done deal.”

Commission Chair Carol Moser said the number of public meetings was limited by the commission’s budget, and the difficulty of assembling its far-flung members.

O’Neal said the group had adjusted its policies based on public input in the past.

“Your participation here is not worthless,” he said, “it’s valuable.”

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