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Public meetings set to discuss ferry fare hikes

A series of open houses are scheduled for February and March so ferry commuters can voice concerns over a proposed ferry fare increase of 5 percent this May and another 5 percent a year later.

There is only one meeting scheduled in Kitsap County in the months ahead — as well as one on Vashon Island and downtown Seattle — while, last year, open houses were scheduled in three different Kitsap County communities.

“We found that in our hearings last year, the attendance was rather slight,” said Alice Tawresey, the Tariff Policy Committee chair. “There were three here last year and as a way to save money, it was thought we should consolidate our meetings.”

A public comment period was launched Jan. 17 when the Transportation Commis-sion blessed the proposed ferry fare increase as presented by members of the Tariff Policy Committee. And it’s not scheduled to end until March 20, when the Transportation Commission meets again and holds a formal hearing on the fare increase proposal.

If adopted, the 5 percent increase would take effect May 4 and again on May 2, 2004.

Fare increases started to be phased in about two years ago, with a 20 percent average increase on Central Sound routes and a 12.5 percent hike in fares last year.

But this proposal is far less than the 10 percent proposed increase that was anticipated for this May.

That scenario changed when Washington State Ferries director Mike Thorne developed a strategic plan last year that increases additional revenues through advertising and other means by 5 percent, reduces expenditures by another five percent and raise fares by 5 percent.

Under Thorne’s plan, fares are to pay for 90 percent of the WSF operating costs by 2008, a far larger chunk than recommended by a state blue ribbon commission.

The state panel recommended 80 percent fare-box recovery.

“How could you be against that (Thorne’s plan),” Tawresey asked. “That’s like motherhood and apple pie.”

Tawresey quickly added the downside to Thorne’s plan is the possible discontinuation of state-operated passenger-only vessels in the Puget Sound this June.

“But I am very optimistic about Kitsap Transit being able to take over,” Tawresey said.

Kitsap Transit dusted off a three-year old plan to resurrect passenger-ferry services if WSF discontinues the program this summer.

The plan requires a vote of the people within a service area including Kitsap and King counties, Seattle and possibly Gig Harbor.

It could also mean an increase in the sales tax, and the service wouldn’t be implemented until about 12 months after a vote.

Ferry fare meetings around the sound:

Public meetings are to be conducted over the next couple of months regarding the proposed ferry fare increases of 5 percent this year and 5 percent next year. Washington State Ferries staff and Transportation Policy Committee members are to be on hand to answer questions and discuss the proposal. In some cases, the open house will be conducted in conjunction with regular Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) meetings.

An open house is scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at Vashon Island High School, 20120 Vashon Highway SW, in conjunction with the South Sound FAC meeting.

Another is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. March 3 in downtown Seattle at the Federal Building, 915 Second Avenue.

Yet another open house is slated for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 4 in Bremerton at the Washington Mutual Building, 500 Pacific Avenue. It is also t be held in conjunction with a Central Sound FAC meeting.

Comments are also accepted online. A link is provided off of the Washington State Ferries Web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.

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