Ferry fares need scrutiny

The public should not sit mutely by as Washington State Ferries raise its rates once again.

Fare hikes in the spring have become as common as the return of gray whales and tourists in recent years. The Legislature demanded that the ferries pay more of their operating costs, which has resulted in annual increases of 6 percent.

There is little doubt that continuous fare increases over the past few years have impacted ridership throughout the ferry system. The number of people taking the ferries is flat or increasing at a slower rate than in the past, and the rate increases are hurting people throughout the Puget Sound region.

Many Whidbey Islanders, ranging from Oak Harbor to Clinton, commute on the Clinton-to-Mukilteo ferry route. As costs keep rising, more and more people can’t afford the commute. It’s one of many reasons that few people with children are moving to the island and that’s hurting school district funding, particularly on South Whidbey.

High ferry fares are also detrimental to island businesses. A family of four can expect to pay more than $30 in ferry fees just for a round-trip to Whidbey Island in the summertime. Is it any wonder that tourist-dependent businesses are worried?

No private business can expect to raise its rates by 6 percent a year without a serious public outcry. The ferry system can expect no less. Contact your legislators, send an e-mail to tariff@wsdot.wa.gov or attend a meeting Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

If people don’t speak up, ferry fares will never stop skyrocketing.

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