Ferry fares to rise 2.5 percent in October

It will cost 2.5 percent more for most drivers to use a Washington State ferry beginning Oct. 1.

The The Washington State Transportation Commission adopted serveral changes to current ferry fares at a hearing held in Seattle on Wednesday.

The changes included a general fare increase of 2.5 percent on Oct. 1, 2011, and a 3 percent increase on May 1, 2012; a restructuring of car size-based fare categories; and the addition of a capital surcharge of 25 cents per fare.

A WSDOT news release states the commission's action is aimed toward meeting an overall revenue target of $310 million that must be raised by ferry fares between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2013, as required by the current transportation budget set by the legislature.

The commission gathered public input on the proposal in eight ferry-served communities during July and August and received many comments by email and by mail.

The action has five key elements:

* General Fare Increase: A 2.5 percent general fare increase takes effect Oct. 1, and an additional 3 percent general fare increase will take effect May 1, 2012. The May 2012 increase is intended to preclude the need for an increase in October 2012.

* Vehicle size category changes: The action creates a new size category for cars less than 14-feet, with the fare for small cars to be eventually 70 percent of the standard vehicle fare. This new fare category intends to encourage small car use to maximize the use of ferry deck space. This change will be phased in over three years, starting with the fare set at 90 percent of the standard vehicle fare on Oct. 1, 2011, and then set at 80 percent of the standard vehicle fare on May 1, 2012, and finally set at 70 percent of the standard vehicle fare in 2013. Also, the standard vehicle size is redefined as 14 to 22 feet. Currently, the maximum length for a standard vehicle is 20 feet.

The annual bicycle permit is eliminated and passengers paying with monthly passes, multi-ride cards, or an ORCA ePurse will be allowed to bring bicycles on board without additional charge. In the San Juan Islands, only passengers using multi-ride cards would be exempt from the bicycle surcharge.

A fuel surcharge mechanism is put in place as a way to pay for unexpected spikes in fuel prices not funded under the current budget. The surcharge mechanism will only be triggered when fuel costs exceed the currently-funded average fuel price of $3.86 per gallon, by 2.5 percent. This means Washington State Ferry's fuel prices would have to increase to at least $4.08 per gallon to activate the surcharge. Any changes to the surcharge will require a 30-day advanced notice to customers.

* A system-wide capital surcharge of 25 cents per fare is added. The surcharge is required by law and is dedicated to funding vessel replacement. The 25 cent surcharge will be assessed on every ticket issued.

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