Nickel-and-diming all the way to the bank

It’s bad enough Kitsap residents can’t leave the area without having to pay their way off this peninsula and soon one way is going to get a little more costly.

Whether taking the ferry or driving around, the latter option is becoming increasingly tougher on the pocketbook as gas prices keep inching toward that exorbitant $4-a-gallon mark. The upward trend continues with the Washington Transportation Commission approving a proposal Monday to increase the current toll rates for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The recommendation was made by the bridge’s citizen advisory committee last month.

The new tolls are being upped by $1 — which takes it to $4 for drivers paying with cash and $2.75 for those with Good To Go! — and will take effect July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009. Perfect timing — just about the time oil companies will increase their prices for the summer travel season.

Of course, there will be the required meetings for public comment, but what’s the point? The commission is going to adopt the rates at its final public hearing on May 27 regardless of what people have to say. Those who are planning to comment in opposition of the toll rates will only be wasting their breath.

The bridge hasn’t even been open for a year (it officially opened to traffic July 16, 2007) and already the toll increases are beginning. According to the Washington Transportation Commission, there are two reasons for the increase: Bonds for the bridge construction costs must be paid every six months and the commission wants to maintain a discount for drivers with Good To Go!

“We’re following the recommendations made by the Citizen Advisory Committee which wanted to continue an incentive for those with Good To Go! accounts. But, because up to 75 percent of drivers are now using electronic tolling, we couldn’t continue the current toll rates and still pay all our bills,” stated Commission Chairman Dick Ford in a news release.

So planners had enough ingenuity to erect a massive bridge, but not enough smarts to have a thorough financial plan that could be followed from start to finish? As is often the case, someone’s “oops” falls on the shoulders of those who are forced to cough up the money, whether it’s taxpayers or, in this case, drivers. While tolls are going up, customer service is going down. Hours on the customer service line for Good To Go! have since been reduced by 15 hours a week.

The original plan, before Good To Go!, was for a rate increase in 2009. We are barely into 2008 and already the money train has left the station. It’s a $1 increase on the current tolls and some would say it’s only $1, but where does it end? What’s being done now is not consistent with what was said in the beginning. There will just be one more excuse for another future increase.

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