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New ferry price increases irk Whidbey commuters

"The state ferry system's annual fare increase for its peak summer season has Whidbey Island passengers upset.Ferry system officials said during the peak season, which begins May 13 and lasts until mid-October, a 20-percent surcharge will be charged to vehicles and drivers not using frequent user coupons. The surcharge will not affect passenger fares.Although the seasonal fare increase is typical, commuters waiting at the Keystone and Clinton ferry docks said they were displeased when theylearned about the surcharge.Of 40 ferry riders interviewed by the Whidbey News-Times, nearly all said the surcharge seemed especially unfair because of the ferry systems plans to raise fares across the board.Ferry spokeswoman Susan Harris-Huether, the revised fee schedule will generally raise all fares over current levels. She added the new prices will likely go into effect June 3.Small business owner Jim Hoight, traveling to Port Townsend with his wife and two young children, said he felt incredulous when he discovered the new fee schedule, coupled with the peak season surcharge, would raisethe current single-ride fares by about 40 percent.All (state lawmakers) want is more and more money, never mind the people who depend on this for their regular transportation, Hoight said. There's no end to it.Hoight, who said he lives on the Kitsap Peninsula, but frequently visits family in the Oak Harbor area, asserted state leaders were blind and deaf to theplight of working families, many who will find it hard to pay the higher fees.Harris-Huether said the revised single-trip rate between Keystone and Port Townsend will be $7. With the surcharge, however, the cost will shoot to $8.75.Between Clinton and Mukilteo, a regular single trip will cost $5. With the surcharge, the price there will rise to $6.25.More than half of those interviewed echoed the sentiments of Keystone rider Jill Price, an artistic painter, who suggested the ferry rates were one wayGov. Locke and the Legislature were covering the way they mismanage state funds. She didn't see any good reason for the ferry system to raise fees as much as it is planning.It's just going to get worse and worse, Price said. These guys never learn. They take our money, they talk about improving transportation. But, what they hell do they ever do? Nothing ... nothing's getting better. They say they need more money to improve the system. All I hear is a big sucking sound. Another Keystone commuter, who said he works in Oak Harbor during the week but spends the weekends at home in Lakewood, complained all of the state's transportation costs are outrageous.When they raise the damn gas prices and ferry prices, it just hurts - for the average Joe, he said.On his return to Mukilteo, Keith King, a swimming pool construction worker who works for a Seattle company, figured the new ferry fares would hurt a large number of riders. Basically, they're being held hostage, he said.King said he remembered when a ferry ride was considered an inexpensive, romantic diversion. It was one of the cheap dates in town ... get on the ferry, watch the sunset.Now, King lamented, I'd rather go to Disneyland.Fletcher Davis of Freeland, also on his way to Mukilteo, was like a number of older, more established riders who agreed that the news fares seemed a bitsteep, but accepted the fee hikes as a necessary way to keep the ferry system operating. I'm sorry for the people who will find it a problemfinancially, but it's pretty important, he said.On the other hand, said Davis, the state may not have had to raise prices quite as much, were it not for the funding shortfalls left by recent tax-cutting measures.Davis' wife, Elizabeth, said the fee increases will likely prove a losing situation for everybody - including the state, which won't collect much of the expected new revenue. After all, she said, faced with ferry fees beyond their means, many people will do the sensible - albeit inconvenient - thing.They're going to drive around.In 2000, the ferry system carried 26.7 million riders, according to system planning director Ray Deardorf.Out of last year's total ridership, 12.5 million - or, about 47 percent - used the ferry system during the peak summer period. "

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