Ferry fare hike meetings skip Whidbey Island

A 2.5 percent general fare increase and another hit to the pocketbook of tourists and other infrequent ferry users is in the works.

But Whidbey Island residents wishing to comment on a proposal to increase ferry fares may have difficulty voicing their opinion in person.

The island, which is served by ferries at Keystone and Clinton, is noticeably absent from the list of public meetings that are scheduled to take place late August and early September.

Reema Griffith, executive director for the Washington State Transportation Commission, said money was the primary reason for limited meetings. The commission is responsible for setting fares for Washington State Ferries.

“Our budget is extremely lean,” Griffith said. “We’re trying to scrape together what we can to put these on.”

She noted that the scheduled meetings will skip a lot of the ferry system. The first meeting takes place Monday, Aug. 31, on board the Sealth, the ferry that serves the interisland route in the San Juans. The meeting begins with the 11:35 a.m. departure from Friday Harbor.

Other meetings take place in Silverdale and Vashon Island in early September.

Griffith said the timing to raise fares changed, which also affected the number of meetings that could be held. Previously new fares were adopted in May, however rules switched the adoption time to September. That change doesn’t provide a lot of time since the end of the legislative session, she said.

The Transportation Commission will hold its formal public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 8, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Puget Sound Regional Council, 1011 Western Ave., Suite 500 in Seattle. People not able to attend the Seattle hearing can still participate via conference call. They should call 712-432-1620. The password is 404317#.

The Transportation Commission is proposing a 2.5 percent general fare increase that would go into effect Aug. 11.

In addition, the proposal would divide the calendar into three seasons. The cheapest would be the base fare, which would be applicable from Oct. 10 through June 23. The “shoulder season” would charge fares equal to the current 20 percent peak fare increase tourists and other occasional riders pay. That season would go from May 1 through June 23 and Sept. 8 through Oct. 9.

The highest fares would be charged during the summer season, which goes from June 24 through Sept. 7. The fare would be applied to single ticket users. It would tack another 10 percent on top of the 20 percent peak season surcharge.

Griffith said the price tolerance is higher for single-ticket riders than for commuters, who buy multi-ride passes. She said the new fare is targeted at tourists.

Other aspects of the new fare proposal include giving Washington State Ferries the authority to implement a deposit on reservations and eliminating the tollbooth surcharge for multi-ride fare purchases.

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