Delayed Fare Hike Will Cost Ferries Half a Million

Nowadays, Washington State Ferries raises fares in October. It used to happen in the spring, but not anymore. The assumption included in WSF’s long-range plan and backed by the Legislature is that there will be a 2.5 percent inflationary increase each year. This year, however, that’s being delayed until Jan. 1 so the toll-setting state Transportation Commission could look at reports from the state auditor and the Passenger Vessel Association. Three months of not collecting that extra 2.5 percent will cost the ferries system $550,000, said WSF spokeswoman Joy Goldenberg.

Fare collections had been running ahead of projections, and WSF hoped that would make up the deficit. A drop in September forecasts eliminated the cushion, Goldenberg said. There will be two more forecasts, in November and March, before the Legislature writes a budget. Lawmakers will be able to see if another cushion will build up or if they’ll have to cover the loss.

The ferries system didn’t think a delay was necessary in the first place, and urged the commission not to do it, Goldenberg said. But there was a frenzy going on about WSF wasting money and the Legislature and commission were uneasy about raising fares in that environment.

A 2.5 percent fare increase seems reasonable to me. The problem was the 80 percent hike that happened the first six or seven years after the car tab money was taken away in 2000. Fares were actually too low back then — $3.70 for a passenger and $6.50 for car/driver. What a deal that sounds like today. Fares went from too low to too high in less than a decade. Now it’ll be $12.15 each way for car/driver, or $24.30 for a round trip. That’s too much for me and I think too much for most people.