San Juans protest planned ferry hike

"San Juan County Commissioners sent a letter last week to Gov. Gary Locke asking the governor to think of the working families in the San Juans and to give the islands some relief from ferry rate increases.Washington State Ferries is proposing a 27 percent rate increase in the San Juans next year and there is the potential for more rate increases - up to 100 percent total - during the next five years as the ferries move toward more support of operations from fare revenues. Currently, in the San Juans, fares support 40 percent of operations, and WSF is looking for 80 percent support.Darcie Nielsen, a member of a state task force on ferries, said she suspects there would probably be support in the San Juans for some moderate fare increases, but that asking for 80 or 100 percent support of ferry operations from fares is unfair to the island residents.The letter sent to Locke and to state legislators states that: Any policy, including a user-fee based ferry transportation system, that prices ferries out of the wage bracket of Washington's working families, disenfranchises and isolates islanders.Ferry riders are glad to supplement the costs of ferries with increased fares, understanding the increased costs of ferry transportation today. But they should not bear the burden ... to the extent that within less than six years they can no longer live in the areas they have made great.Nielsen said commissioners attempted in the letter to get the point across that many modes of transportation - highways, bridges, mass transit, etc. - are subsidized by taxpayers.The commissioners' letter states that there are benefits to society that come with these subsidized forms of mass transit, including limiting other infrastructure, such as more roads, more pollution, more bridges, specific roadway tolls, etc. Do we really want more marinas, bigger airports, bridges, or worse yet, to barge workers across the (Puget) Sound? Also, the state expends millions of taxpayer dollars every year to keep highway passes open over the Cascades each winter to enhance transportation to eastern Washington, she pointed out.It's (WSF) a transportation system. All transportation systems are subsidized by taxpayers, said Nielsen.Nielsen did not dispute the notion that there is are major anti-ferry forces on the political landscape, and that there continues to be a perception that only wealthy people live in the San Juans who can afford to pay huge increases in ferry fares. That perception is alive and well, she said. "

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