CHOKEPOINTS

Ferry fare rates will increase 2.5% this year and next

Aug 10, 2021, 4:56 AM | Updated: 11:16 am
ferry...
In this May 25, 2021, file photo, a passenger wears a mask while riding on a Washington state ferry from Bremerton to Seattle as another ferry passes near the Space Needle, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Ferry riders will soon need to dig a little deeper in their wallets. The state has approved increasing ferry fares.

When will beer and food return to ferry boats?

With very little discussion or debate at today’s hearing, The Washington State Transportation Commission has adopted the 2.5% across-the-board fare increase, which was proposed earlier this summer.

The ferry fares would go up 2.5% this October and another 2.5% next October.

So, why is this happening?

Ferry fares took a huge hit during the pandemic, especially with walk-on passengers. A lot of those daily commuters heading to downtown Seattle have been working from home over the last 18 months. I checked with the ferry system Monday, and ridership is at about 80% of pre-pandemic levels, though some routes are close to normal levels.

Those fares help fund the system. The state legislature requires $377 million in fare revenues over the next two years. At current ridership forecasts, the system is over $9 million in the red.

Ray Deardorf, the senior planning manager at the ferry system, told commissioners earlier this year that the forecast ahead calls for stormy weather.

“We actually forecast in the long term that we will permanently lose some commuter walk-ons and even commuter vehicles,” Deardorf said.

Commissioner Debbie Young of San Juan County sees the same thing.

“There’s a high likelihood that previous walk-on riders are going to take advantage of opportunities to work from home or requirements to work from home and not return robustly in the near future,” she said in June.

Young said it’s time for the legislature to put ferry funding at the top of the list, instead of always asking riders to pay more.

“We have a ferry system that is woefully underfunded for its capital needs, and we’re going to continue to need to do more with less for some years in the future, until enough new boats can be funded and built,” she said.

Right now, there are no new ferries being built, but work on the first Olympic class hybrid ferry is expected to begin within a year and be serving riders on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry run in about three years.

There could be more funding set-aside for ferries, if the legislature gets back into session to debate a multi-billion dollar, multi-year transportation plan. But that package is full of controversial issues like a low carbon fuel standard and carbon pricing.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Ferry fare rates will increase 2.5% this year and next