New Pierce County ferry fare increase won’t fix looming operational deficit

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(The Center Square) – The Pierce County Council has approved a 3% increase on ferry fares in 2024 and 5% increase in 2025 in an effort to chip away at an operating deficit anticipated by 2027.

Walk-on passengers over the age of 18 will pay $7.50 in 2024 and $7.75 in 2025. The current rate is $6.21. Vehicles up to and including 22 feet in length will be charged $22.50 during non-peak hours and $30.75 during peak hours next year. In 2025 the rates will increase to $23.75 during non-peak hours and $32.25 during peak hours.

Children ages 18 and under will still be able to use the ferry system for free.

The Pierce County Planning and Public Works Department’s ferry service runs between the town of Steilacoom, Anderson Island and Ketron Island.

Along with fare increases, Ordinance 2023-58s also establishes a $1 per ticket capital replacement surcharge on all tickets sold. All proceeds from the capital replacement surcharge will be deposited in a separate account and be utilized solely for ferry capital replacement purposes.

A long-term study conducted on the county’s ferry system found that the ferry fund is projected to be in a $2.6 million operating deficit by 2027 if a significant funding source is not established. The deficit is not able to be corrected using the fare box without extreme pricing for services.

The 3% and 5% increases in ferry fares for the next two years are expected to add $260,000 in revenue. The $1 surcharge is expected to add $444,000. In total, the approved changes add up to $704,000 in additional revenue.

The additional funds are not enough to cover the looming operating deficit. Instead, the county expects the funds to limit the impact of growing inflationary factors on the county’s ferry system.

The Pierce County ferry system has not seen much success in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the study, Pierce County’s ferry fare box recovery was lower than that of the other two Puget Sound county ferries in 2022.

Pierce County’s 2022 fare box recovered 29.5%, whereas Whatcom County saw 39.9% recovery and Skagit County saw 41.7%. The study notes that Pierce County’s fare box recovery may be lower due to the additional cost of dry docking and maintaining two vehicle-carrying ferries and three landing sites.

The ordinance was passed unanimously by the Pierce County Council on Tuesday.

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