Since early February, the Washington State Transportation Commission has visited every town with a ferry port to allow residents the chance to examine its 4 percent fare increase proposal. Last Thursday culminated in WTC’s reverting to a previously promised 2.5 percent increase, set to begin May 1, suggested by the Legislature.
This could become a moot point if House Bill 2358 is approved, and 23rd District representatives Christine Rolfes (Bainbridge Island) and Sherry Appleton (Poulsbo) have their say. That bill would effectively freeze any fare increases for 18 months so Washington State Ferries can create a better business plan.
“It was hard to tell if the commissioners walked into the meeting with an idea to vote that way,” Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee chairman Walt Elliott said about the fare decision. “It was not a unanimous vote, two voted against it… I think all (the comments and petitions) helped. They heard us at the town meeting.”
At the hearing, Elliott produced a petition that had circulated the Kingston area during the last couple of weeks, garnering about 1,000 signatures. Vashon Island residents presented a petition bearing several hundred signatures, and San Juan Islands commuters collected about 3,000.
“It was mainly public input they gave consideration to, as well as the legislative and government recommendations,” said state transportation commission executive administrator Reema Griffith. “There wasn’t a massive applause or anything when they made the announcement, but I think most everyone was pleased.”
As far as HB 2358 is concerned, she said the commission is keeping an eye on it, but hasn’t dedicated much discussion to it yet. With several ferry bills making the rounds in the Legislature, the commission doesn’t have time to discuss specific plans until the bills are voted into effect.
“The bill implements recommendations of a ferry finance study done in January,” Rolfes said. “It will cause the ferry system to relook at how they do capital planning, how fares are structured. What my bill does is codifies the citizen advisory process, it codifies the tariff advisory committee that was dissolved.”
HB 2358 is currently in the Senate pending approval, which will be announced April 22, she said. If voted into action, it would effectively set back the 2.5 percent increase until October 2008, requiring the ferry system and the transportation commission to reexamine its business plan. It may also help equally distribute fare adjustments throughout the system and involve elected officials in the decision making process, Rolfes said.
“The citizens of Kingston, Hansville and Bainbridge Island have given fantastic input,” she said. “A few have testified for the bill, and they have all been really helpful. In particular the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee, their input has been really constructive and helpful.”
“This is a real opportunity to affect positive change,” KFAC member Dennis Cziske said of the bill. “Maybe some thoughts will go to, ‘We can go rest now.’ People will think they can take a break and rest, that’s not the case. It’s time provided to step up and get to work to get the ferry system we want to have.”