Inequities in state ferry fares | In Our Opinion

One of the region’s most effective advocacy groups scored a big win in August.

Which group? Advocates for more affordable housing? Conservation voters? Social justice activists?

No, no and no. It’s pedal power.

Bicycle riders, led by the Cascade Bicycle Club, rolled over the Washington State Transportation Commission as officials were set to approve new increases for fares on Washington state ferries.

The commission was considering fare increases for the next two years, and part of the proposed package included higher fares for passengers who bring bicycles with trailers on board ferries. Instead, those cyclists would pay the motorcycle/driver (stowage) rate instead of the combined passenger fare with bicycle surcharge.

Biking enthusiasts swamped the commission with hundreds of emails protesting the proposed increase.

The Cascade Bicycle Club warned its members the new fares would “result in most summer season bike-trailer trips, costing 1.5 the current cost.”

Currently, bicyclists with a trailer pay a $1 surcharge that’s tacked onto the standard passenger fare.

On its website, the club called the increase “an unprecedented fare increase on a small number of ferry users.” They estimated the peak season fare for bikers with trailers would climb from $9.20 to $16 for those on the Bainbridge route.

Hundreds of emails against the increase, many using the same cut-and-paste protests, were sent to the commission.

Even so, others said bikes with trailers should pay higher fares, given that they take up more space and can’t be leaned up against ferry railings like bikes without trailers.

“The Cascade Bicycle Club is wrong, it should not ‘remain affordable’ to take up more space than five other riders and be charged the same fare,” wrote one ferry rider.

“I favor charging bike trailers. They should pay for the space they take up on the ferry,” wrote another. “You have coddled bicyclists and now they are objecting to paying their fair share. It is high time they do so.”

Regardless, the email campaign worked, and commissioners dropped any higher fares for bicyclists, except those towing canoes and kayaks.

Speaking up sometimes works, so congratulations to those advocates.

Pity, though, that more folks weren’t outraged for the rest of us — the people who drive cars and small trucks onto the ferry (you know, the people the boats were actually built for, to help us travel on Washington’s marine highways).

We’ll still see the highest rate hikes — 2.9 percent increase this October, and 2.5 percent the following October.

Even sadder, the ones who take up the most room on the boats — oversized vehicles and commercial trucks — will see the smallest increase this October (0.8 percent to 1.8 percent fare increase) and no increase in 2018.

Then again, how long has it been since fares were really fair?