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Washington State Ferries to increase fares to cover $28 million shortfall

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(The Center Square) – The Washington State Transportation Commission held its annual meeting at Friday Harbor, and the topic of discussion was ferries and fares.

On the agenda was the recently passed transportation budget, which sets a funding target of $419 million for the coming biennium. A target the Washington State Ferry System is currently $28 million short of.

This funding shortage necessitates an approximate 4% increase in fares for the WSF system each year for the next two years.

The question is, what form will that increase take?

Through the WSTC’s online public input forum conducted from May 15 through June 9, 2023, the transportation commission gathered data from survey respondents on three possible options for fare increases.

Option one was a straight 4% increase for vehicle and walk-on passengers alike, with multi-ride passes maintaining a 20% discount, though from the newly 4% increased fares.Option two was a 3.5% increase for walk-on passengers and a 4.5% increase for vehicles, with that same 20% discount for multi-ride passes.Option three was a 4.25% increase for vehicle and walk-on passengers alike, but with the multi-ride pass discount increasing to 21%, again on top of the newly increased fares.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly preferred the third option, with it garnering nearly three times the votes of either of the other two options. It was the recommendation of the committee to adopt option three.

However, that may not be the only fare change coming this year.

Also discussed was adopting a potential fuel surcharge, which would be “structured as an incremental and additional charge that is applied to the standard fare.”

While this rule has been in place since 2010 per ESSB 6381, it has yet to be implemented. Also, the passage of this year’s transportation budget changed those implementation details slightly.

This fuel surcharge could range from 2.5% to 10% of the fare and would be calculated quarterly based on a formula by Washington State Ferries.

The public should note that these fare increases are not yet finalized, with one additional public hearing taking place on Aug. 10th.

If adopted into law, the new fares would take effect Oct. 1, 2023.

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