The state Transportation Commission voted Tuesday to increase fares for most people who use Washington State Ferries, but youth fares and some other rates will drop.
The hikes totaling about 6 percent will be phased in over the next year. They are expected to raise $328 million over the next two years to meet state budget requirements set by the Legislature. That’s about 6 percent more than the fare budget for 2011-2013.
Adult passenger fares will increase 2 percent and vehicle fares will increase 3 percent Oct. 1. Passenger fares will rise another 2 percent and vehicle fares 2.5 percent next May 1.
Increases would be higher for routes in the San Juan Islands.
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For some passengers, fares will be going down. For example, people driving vehicles under 14 feet will be charged 70 percent of the full vehicle fare. Youth fares also will drop, from 20 percent off a full fare to half off a full fare.
For a car or SUV between 14 feet and 22 feet long and a driver, the fare will rise about 25 to 40 cents on Oct. 1 and an additional 20 to 35 cents on May 1. For example, the Coupeville to Port Townsend fare for a car and driver would go from $10.20 to $10.50 in October and $10.75 in May.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Ann Dasch, of Anderson Island, thanked the commissioners for working to make the system more efficient and for considering her suggestion to lower youth fares.
“Thank you for recognizing that lowering fares for children can increase ridership,” she said.
The commission thanked the public for the 147 comments they sent via email about the fare proposal, but expressed dismay that only about 25 people altogether attended six outreach meetings around the state to gather public comment.
Several commissioners recommended spending less money to travel to gather opinions when most people appear to prefer electronic communications.
“We need to consider whether it makes sense to send all of us out to outreach meetings that no one attends,” said Transportation Commission Chairman Dan O’Neal.
A commission staff member said most of the email comments were in favor of the rate proposal, and many made other suggestions for improving the ferry system.
The rate increase was designed to maintain services and to pay for increased costs like fuel prices, not improve services, several commissioners said.