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July 31, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Yes, riders should pay more to use Washington ferries

The Washington Transportation Commission voted Tuesday to gradually increase ferry fares by a total of about 6 percent over the next year. The Associated Press covers the basics in this news report, with a breakdown of how the hikes will affect passengers and vehicles as early as Oct. 1, 2013. The good news is youth passengers will get a 50 percent discount on full fares and smaller cars will also get a discount.

Passengers aboard the Washington State Ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle Saturday night, July 27, 2013. (BETTINA HANSEN/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Passengers aboard the Washington State Ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle Saturday night, July 27, 2013. (BETTINA HANSEN/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

According to the AP story:

For a car or SUV between 14 feet and 22 feet long and a driver, the fare will rise about 25 to 40 cents on Oct. 1 and another 20 to 35 cents on May 1, 2014. For example, the Coupeville to Port Townsend fare for a car and driver would go from $10.20 now to $10.50 in October and $10.75 in May.

Folks will groan about the change, especially those who commute between the islands and their jobs in the Seattle area, but this is a necessary move by the commission. That panel could have considered more drastic measures to raise $328 million needed to meet the Legislature’s budget requirements over the next biennium. In 1999, voters passed Initiative 695, which limited the hated Moter Vehicle Excise Tax to $30. As a result, the ferry system saw revenue designated for its operations budget slashed by 20 percent. The only way to recover those costs is through higher fares, which have ranged between 47 percent and 132 percent. (Click on this link to see Washington State Ferries’ 2012 analysis of routes statements.)

The six percent average increase approved Tuesday is not unusual and nowhere near as drastic as a 20 percent fare increase approved in 2001 and a 12.5 percent increase in 2002. Ridership has decreased over the years, but the system remains the largest in the nation and serves 23 million passengers per year. Here’s some state data to show how fare increases correlated with ridership:

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