Passengers could get bigger breaks on ferry fares

Washington State Ferries, realizing its boats and terminals won’t be getting much bigger, has for the past few years been plotting to make better use of the ones it has. Some of that can be done with pricing, and we can expect to see signs of it in the fare proposal WSF presents to the state Transportation Commission May 22 in Port Townsend.
The beneficiaries could be walk-on passengers and owners of small cars, longtime planning director Ray Deardorf, a Central Kitsap native, indicated during a briefing to the commission Wednesday.
Deardorf and his pals at WSF have been talking fare philosophy with the ferry advisory committee tariff advisors since February. They haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but there are hints.
In 2007, a ferry bill passed by the Legislature directed WSF to encourage more walk-ons. There’s almost always room for more people, but boats often fill up with cars during commute times and at the beginning and end of weekends. Presuming the system was set up to move vehicles, it only costs 18 percent more to accommodate passengers, yet they provide 25 percent of revenue.
“That gives you the latitude to make these shifts to spreading the distance between vehicle and passenger fares,” Deardorf said.
That means walk-ons could legitimately pay less than they are now relative to drivers. For decades, drivers have paid 3.5 times as much.
Changes that could spread that distance are increasing the youth (6-18 years old) discount from 20 percent to 50 percent to line up with most transit agencies and match the WSF deal given to seniors and people of disability, and bigger discounts for 90-day and monthly passenger passes.
There’d be more incentive for walk-ons if they had good bus connections, commissioners said. Deardorf said WSF hasn’t put much pressure on transit agencies to make more ferry connections because they’ve been in financial straits the last couple years.
In 2011, WSF started giving discounts to little cars, those under 14 feet long, to try to get more vehicles on a boat. They got another 10 percent off last year. There was planned to be a final 10 percent cut this year. It sounds like they want to figure it a different way that I don’t understand, but the end result would be about the same.
It’s working, by the way. There’s been more than a 5 percent increase in small cars. Bremerton has the highest percentage, followed by the triangle route.
“They tend to bunch up in commute times at commute directions, so it is having the effect we needed,” Deardorf said.
A growth of little cars and weird motorcycles has caused some problems in trying to figure out what to charge. Motorcycles have long been charged one-fifth the cost of a full-size car, presuming you could fit five of them in a car spot, which has never been the case. But now there are more motorcycles with two front tires or two back tires that take up more space. WSF is trying to figure out what to do with them, but ultimately it sounds like it’ll be based on the volume they take up on the car deck. They just can’t afford the measuring devices for such a system at this point.
House and Senate transportation budget proposals are expecting $328 million in fares, up from $309 last biennium. Part of that could come from increased ridership, which is projected to grow 0.3 percent in fiscal 2014 and 1.3 percent in 2015. The first three months of this year it was up about 3 percent.
The proposals assumed fare increases of 2.5 percent in October and 2.5 percent in May 2014.

One thought on “Passengers could get bigger breaks on ferry fares

  1. I’d like to see some changes to the parking at Southworth. The lot is nearly empty most of the time and the $5 fee is a disincentive to ride the ferry as a passenger.

    Commuters are able to park at the nearby park and ride operated by Kitsap Transit. However providing the free shuttle costs KT money it could be spending on improved bus service on the other Southworth runs.

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