It’s time to put bad attitudes to rest
By VAL TORRENS
Central Kitsap Reporter Writer
January 9, 2009 · Updated 9:54 AM
This is the last chance to give input to Washington State Ferries (WSF) on its legislative proposals for the ferry system. Not surprisingly, there are only two options WSF wants feedback on — one of which has never been presented before.
Plan A is the one that comes closest to keeping what already exists. The current level of service is essentially maintained and there is the ability to replace ferries. It is the one that will result in a $3.5 billion deficit over the course of 22 years.
Of course, WSF is not behind this one. They would rather the public get behind Plan B, which results in far less debt, but comes at the expense of Kitsap County. Plan B also is the one that no one has seen before. This new wrinkle apparently was done in response to the even-worsening economic scenario facing the state budget.
While that is certainly plausible, it comes across more as a sleight of hand to get some other entity, like Kitsap County, to pick up the tab that WSF doesn’t want to pay. The plan basically shifts the state’s responsibility of maintaining the marine highway, better known as the ferry system, by making up the changes with expanded use of county-funded passenger only ferries. Rightly, the county commissioners call this an unfunded mandate.
People need to go to the meetings and tell WSF that Plan B is totally unacceptable and Plan A is barely sufficient. WSF and the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) should be pushed to get better funding, not less, for the state’s marine highway system. Using the economy to support their position is just an excuse. It really shows what the WSTC’s priorities are and they are certainly not the ferries.
WSF has always been treated like the stepchild of the Department of Transportation. Ferries get far less money from the state gas tax than the roads do. Ferries also get no monies for being a form of mass transit.
So, while buses and trains enjoy governmental subsidies to the point that fares generally provide only 20 percent of the revenue, not so for the ferries. Overall in the WSF system, the current fare collection provides about 80 percent of the operating revenue. But, in fact, three runs – Bainbridge, Kingston and Mukilteo – subsidize all the other runs. The fare collection on those runs starts at 100 percent of operating revenue and goes up.
It almost makes one wonder why WSF even bothers, but maybe that is their point with their current push for cutting back the system. Certainly, the majority of the WSTC are no fans of the ferries.
This bad attitude on the part of the WSTC and WSF has got to change. They seem to have forgotten why the state took over the ferry system in the first place. The private sector could not make it work. Recognizing that the ferries provide a vital economic link to and from the islands and the peninsula to the mainland, the state stepped in.
That symbiotic relationship has not changed. It was brought to the fore again in force during the early 1980s when several of the ferry unions went on strike. It didn’t take long for people to realize the impact of all those trucks and cars that normally went on the boat but were now driving around clogging the roads and adding to the wear and tear of the highways. Plus, there were all the people who walked on the boats who either had to find rides or miss work, affecting businesses everywhere.
Yes, times are tough. But these proposals will make it disproportionately unfair not only to all ferry users, but especially to those in Kitsap County. There is a meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13 at the Bainbridge Commons on Brien Drive. Another one will be hosted the next day, Wednesday, Jan. 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kingston Yacht Club.
This is your last opportunity to let WSF and the WSTC know what you think about what they are proposing. It is not our legislators who need to be lobbied, but these folks and the rest of the state. They are the ones who want to turn WSF from a stepchild to an orphan.
Val Torrens covers local issues for the CK Reporter and North Kitsap Herald.