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SK residents want solutions to ferry fare problem

"More than 200 of South Kitsap's ferry commuters turned out last week to tell Washington State Ferries officials what they think of the rate increase proposal.Washington State Ferries hosted a community forum at Sedgwick Junior High Feb. 6 to present fare structure proposals to riders and hear their feedback. Most of the people gathered in the school's Commons area were not pleased.Caren Thompson, a Port Orchard resident who commutes to work in Seattle every day, said she leaves the house at 4:30 every morning and gets home each evening after 6. Washington State Ferries' proposed 20 percent increase in ferry rates would cut 12 percent out of her income, she said, pushing her close to the poverty line.It's unbelievable in a state that is so ferry-dependent that it would only have one source of income. That one-legged stool got that one leg knocked out from under it with one bill, she said, referring to Initiative 695.Washington State Ferries acting CEO Terry McCarthy admitted an 80 percent recovery goal, requiring a 20 percent fare increase, was an aggressive number, but said it still would only cover 22 percent of the cost to run the ferry.He reiterated that Washington State Ferries is experiencing a financial crisis created by Initiative 695, which eliminated the motor vehicle excise tax and 20 percent of WSF's operating budget.Port Orchard resident Matt Kramer said he's been a ferry commuter on and off for 25 years. He currently commutes to work in Seattle every day.His contention with the rising cost of ferry service revolves around the inefficiencies created by poor people management. They need to look at the staffing level, he said.Some people at the forum expressed wonder at the number of WSF staff milling around the ferry terminals and on the boats, some apparently doing nothing. At the Fauntleroy stop, Kramer said, one person issues a ticket and another person takes it farther down and directs motorists to a lane. Do we really need that level of staffing? Kramer said. Greta Bickford, a Port Orchard resident who commutes to Seattle every day, echoed the sentiment, saying Washington State Ferries has admitted to inefficiencies that have contributed to 70 percent of its budget going to cover labor costs.Allowing other private ferry operators onto Puget Sound might provide some incentive for cost savings. I haven't shifted from my position of believing that the greatest benefit to commuters would be to rescind laws prohibiting anyone from competing with Washington State Ferries, she said. Opening up the waters to competition will force everyone to (re-examine) costs.She added she was surprised to hear Washington State Ferries feels the same way. When I said if monopolies are bad for Microsoft, then they're bad for Washington State Ferries, McCarthy said there are four bills in Olympia to introduce competition which they support, she said.McCarthy told the crowd gathered in the Commons at Sedgwick the ferry service will continue to seek ways to cut costs within its own operations while it asks ferry riders to pay more. Obviously, we have to keep looking at ourselves first, he said. We're looking at ways to be an efficient ferry system. Since (Initiative) 695, we've eliminated some positions.We're asking the legislature for help; if we're lucky, they'll give more than we ask for. But that won't be enough. That's why we're looking to raise tariffs, he said.The biggest hike proposed in ferry rates would come in the passenger-only ticket prices, which Washington State Ferries proposed to double. To effect the increase, fares would be collected both eastbound and westbound.Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council Executive Director Mary McClure said the passenger-only proposal raised a red flag for the council.She said preserving affordable passenger-only fares could benefit economic development in Kitsap County, relieve congestion and maintain air quality. Not preserving affordable passenger-only fares might have the opposite effect. The belief among elected officials is it needs to grow, not to be killed, she said.The Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council recommended an alternative fare structure in which all walk-on riders pay the same price plus a surcharge for a fund to pay for a feasibility study and to prepare for later expansion.While most of the attendants Feb. 6 said they use the ferry every day, others said they might take a ferry into downtown Seattle one weekend day a month. But they're no less interested in seeing affordable rates preserved.Louis Jaramillo, a South Kitsap resident, said he uses the ferry about once a month to travel into Seattle.While Louis said he doesn't really have any concerns with the ferry service's proposal, saying 10 percent doesn't sound bad, Sheila Jaramillo said she had issues with the increase.It's ridiculous that they're going to more than double the Seattle to Vashon Island passenger-only rates. We have no choice. It's outrageous, she said.Bickford conceded a fare increase is inevitable, but said she wants to see three things happen as part of a fare increase plan, including a greater support for the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council's alternative fare proposal, more competition on Puget Sound and a simplified Washington State Ferries rate structure.Kramer suggested the people of South Kitsap take ferry service into their own hands. I think the community in Kitsap, particularly in the Southworth area, needs to look into a co-op ferry system, he said, adding he was currently looking into what it might take to get one going.Ferry fare meetings will continue through the month and into March at different locations around the county. The Transportation Commission will take comments during that time on-line at tariff@wsdot.wa.gov.A final, four-hour hearing will be held March 28 in Seattle, during which the Transportation Commission will make a final decision regarding ferry rate increases. "

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