Kick off your holiday season with cookies and enlightening conversation at Kingston’s public ferry meeting Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. in the Kingston Community Center. We’ll chat about fare scares, new toys (144-car ferries and LNG), old toys (64-car ferries), our schedule, the budget, the kerfuffle over crewing, and more. Please call (360) 434-0583 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shaking things up
During the gubernatorial debate Oct. 16, both candidates said they’d change for the better the way that WSF does business. You can Google the transcript for more information. I used the “Transportation Issues Daily” website, www.transportationissuesdaily.com.
The Legislature’s “Fare Media Study” sounds like something that would detectably raise your pulse rate only if you worked inside Olympia. But behind the wonky title is a campaign for all electronic fare collection which would, along the way, change who pays what. For the last few months stalwart Ferry Advisory Committee reps, including our tenacious Dennis Cziske, have hashed through study’s proposals.
Besides cash, credit/debit and check, we have a mishmash of other ways to pay for ferries, transit and bridges.
— Wave2Go: The fare cards that we buy at toll booths, kiosks and on the Internet.
— ORCA: The smart cards used by transit and for some ferry rides. It allows employers to pay pre-tax for fares.
— Good to Go: A transponder on your car that charges tolls electronically as you drive by on the Tacoma Narrows and 520 Bridges.
— Account-based: These are commercial accounts with WSF that bill the customer.
Let’s go through the study’s recommendations on fare payment, starting with the most benign. Bear in mind that brainstorms in Olympia range from practical to puzzling and costly, so don’t expect that all that’s listed below will actually happen.
1. Reinstate joint discounted joint ferry passes with transit agencies. A good idea, especially for commuters.
2. Allow multi-ride cards to be loaded on to ORCA cards now and later swap Wave2Go entirely with ORCA, Good to Go and account-based systems. This works as long as riders can still buy tickets with cash, credit or debit cards. Those implementing will bear close watching to safeguard things like our frequent-user fares. For example, how will frequent user discounts get applied after you use so many rides in a certain time?
3. Charge cars by the foot. This requires an automatic measuring system and seems fair. But who’s going to pay for it and what will it save? Then, like at gas pumps, there’s the cost of calibration verification.
4. Put in Good to Go (transponder) at the tollbooths. Don’t expect to improve tollbooth times, as cars still need to stop to count passengers and for security checks. Their recommendation not to count passengers and just charge all vehicles more isn’t fair, nor is it fair to charge cars without transponders more (like on the 520 bridge).
5. Bring ferry fares in line with “adaptive management practices.” Here’s where the study gets slimy. There are about 20 of these “practices” which range from small-car discounts to unabashed (marine) highway robbery, such as swapping frequent-user fares for increased peak hour fares. Why? Because those cagey commuters are getting “the cheapest possible vehicle fare during the system’s most congested times.” Yikes!
6. Use the Trans-portation Commission survey (FROG) to represent rider views on fare changes. Again, TILT! Without oversight survey, results can be maliciously deceiving. The FROG survey didn’t inspire trust when our legislators were told that the results showed that we think that our fares were underpriced.
Want to find out more? Come to the public meeting Dec. 4. Representatives from WSF will explain how the fare-setting process works and what to expect for 2013.
— This column was written by Walt Elliott, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee. He’s also a Kingston port commissioner.