The price of a ferry ride is going up, again.

Fares are on course to climb this October as Washington State Ferries tries to restore service and cover increases in fuel and labor costs

By: - May 19, 2023 5:49 pm

The MV Kittitas, one of the vessels in the Washington State Ferries fleet. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

Traveling on one of Washington’s iconic state ferries is going to get more expensive as the operator of the nation’s largest ferry fleet looks to regain riders and restore service to pre-pandemic levels.

Fares are expected to climb 4% in October and another 4% on Oct. 1, 2024 to cope with an inflation-fed rise in fuel and labor costs. It’s a noticeable bump as increases have been around 2.5% annually during the past decade.

This year’s hike will arrive with Washington State Ferries operating normal service on five routes and below normal on the remainder. It’s a factor in flagging ridership which in the first three months of this year was nearly 25% below the same period in 2019, according to ferry officials. 

“It comes down to funding the system and recognizing we don’t have full service there yet,” said Patty Rubstello, assistant secretary of transportation in charge of ferries. “Certainly the cost of everything is going up. Our costs are going up.”

A starting point

The impetus for higher fares comes from the 2023-25 state transportation budget passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. 

It counts on the ferry system generating $419 million from fares in the next two years – which is $42 million more than assumed in the current budget.

Achieving the target will require increases of 4% this fall and next fall, ferry officials said in a presentation to the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Lawmakers did provide ferries with additional dollars to address crew shortages that prevent restoration of service. Theoretically, they could have budgeted for a smaller fare hike.  

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and a lead budget writer, said they did cover some of the “pretty dramatic” increases in general operating costs but felt passengers need to share some of the load as they have before.

“Basically, the ferry system is fuel plus workers,” he said. “We’ve seen costs go up more than double digits on the fuel side and pretty substantial cost of living increases for workers.”

Setting the rate

Ferry officials are crafting alternative fare hike approaches for the commission to choose from

One would simply hike prices 4% across the board. Another would increase fares 4.5% for vehicles and 3.5% for walk-on passengers.

Members of a ferry advisory committee want a price break for multi-ride passes included as an option.

How to weigh in

Commissioners will approve a specific fare hike proposal at their June 21 meeting in Friday Harbor.

You don’t have to wait until then to voice an opinion. Online public meetings, where fare changes and route-specific service updates will be discussed, get underway this week. Each will start at 6 p.m.

Here’s the schedule:


Once commissioners adopt a fare hike June 21, public comment will be accepted online through July 30.

Commissioners will hold a final in-person hearing to adopt fare changes at 9 a.m. on Aug. 10 in Seattle.


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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.