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Little reaction seen to fare hikes during SK public meeting

In an effort to garner public comment and answer commuters’ questions, Washington State Ferries representatives held an open house Tuesday night at John Sedgwick Junior High School.

When WSF announced ferry fare changes last year, an estimated 300 people showed up at the school. This time, only a half-dozen commuters made time for the meeting, in what one organizer called a “non-event.”

Those who did make an appearance had little to say about the fare changes. This was likely because, out of all 10 WSF routes, the Southworth-Fauntleroy run is the only one facing a net reduction in fares, rather than an increase.

“Southworth usually has pretty good turnout, but the fare’s not going up and people have better things to do with their lives,” said Michael Hodgins, a staff person for the Tariff Policy Committee.

On this route, all single fares will remain the same. The only increase, a two-dollar addition to the cost of a passenger coupon booklet — currently $28 — is balanced by a $10.80 cut in the price of a monthly passenger pass — currently $58.80. Both auto and motorcycle coupon books will remain the same price.

Mark Kanzler, an Olalla resident who relies on Vanpool to commute to Fauntleroy every day, said the changes will only affect the way he buys his fares, not how much he pays for them.

“(The vanpool users) usually buy coupon books, but with the change in our fares, most of us will probably switch over to a pass,” he said. “It’s now attractive.”

Previously, Kanzler said, a pass only paid for itself if the holder used it twice a day during the week and at least once on the weekend. By buying two 20-fare coupons books a month, he would only pay $56 for 40 fares — more than enough to get him through a typical work month. The monthly pass would have cost $2.80 more.

When the new fares go into effect May 12, two coupon books will cost $60, while the monthly pass will only cost $48 — less than Kanzler was previously paying for two books.

Russ Puskarcik, who lives in Tahuya, uses both the Southworth and Bremerton ferries. Because he takes his car in both directions, he will remain unaffected by Southworth fare changes. The car fare books will stay at their current price, $112 for 20 fares.

His complaint was mostly about the jump in Bremerton-Seattle fares. An auto coupon book on that route will jump from $128 to $144. Single fares during off-peak months will go to $9 from $8. During the summer, the same fare will cost $1.25 more, going from $10 to $11.25.

These single fares are what bothers Puskarcik. Because he only commutes once a week, he said the coupon books expire before he gets the chance to use all the tickets.

For the most part, though, the comments open house attendees shared with the WSF and Department of Transportation officials tended more towards operating concerns, rather than fare concerns.

Puskarcik lobbied attending officials for add-fare tickets — tickets ferry riders could use to convert lower-fare coupons for higher-fare routes. Currently, WSF accepts higher-priced coupons on lower-fare routes, but has no means of processing added-fare payments.

Before Southworth fare prices split from the rest of the central sound routes, Puskarcik said he would take the Bremerton ferry one way and the Southworth ferry the other. When the fare split meant he could no longer use Southworth coupons on the Bremerton route, he had to re-plan how he got to and from Seattle.

“That threw off my whole commute,” Puskarcik said.

Kanzler would like to see another Southworth-Fauntleroy run be established at 7:15 a.m. He said the gap in ferry service around that time occasionally causes him severe stress, particularly when he is running late.

“If I miss the 6:40, I’m stuck until the 7:55,” Kanzler said. “When they put the net up and you’re waving good-bye to the boat, it’s semi-traumatic.”

WSF and DOT officials expect to have much better turnout at other meetings. So far, only half the planned open houses have been held. The next, set for Monday evening, will be in Kingston.

The series of open houses will culminate in a public hearing, to be held 10 a.m. April 4, at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. There, the Transportation Commission is expected to formally vote on the matter.

Those wishing to comment on the fare proposals can either log on to the WSF’s fare website at: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/fares or send an email to tariff@wsdot.wa.gov.

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