State panel draws up a price hike for ferry travel

By: - June 22, 2023 12:45 pm

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

A state transportation panel has agreed on how much to raise fares for travel on state ferries in each of the next two years.

Now the Washington State Transportation Commission wants to know what the public thinks about it.

Commissioners on Wednesday recommended a 4.25% boost for vehicles and walk-on passengers on Oct. 1 and another 4.25% on Oct. 1, 2024.

And they are proposing to increase the discount for multi-ride passes. Buyers of a 20-ride book now receive a discount equal to four free trips. The proposal adopted Wednesday would provide the equivalent of a fifth trip.

Fares differ by route as well as vehicle size, passengers and the time of year one travels.

Today, a one-way trip from Mukilteo to Clinton is $12.80 for a standard-sized vehicle and driver, plus $5.80 for each adult passenger. Those 18 years and under travel free. A similar trip from Edmonds to Kingston will cost $21.40 plus $9.45 for an adult passenger.

Commission staff are compiling information on how the proposed increase would affect the cost of travel on each route. 

Public comment on the fare hike proposal will be accepted online through July 30.

This year’s hike comes as Washington State Ferries works to restore regular service on routes and overcome a dip in ridership, which in the first three months of this year was nearly 25% below the same period in 2019, according to ferry officials. 

It is necessitated by the 2023-25 state transportation budget passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. That budget requires the ferry system generate roughly $419 million from fares in the next two years, $28 million more than the current budget.

Commissioners considered three options for meeting the target. One hiked fares 4% across the board and another increased them by 4.5% for vehicles and 3.5% for walk-on passengers. Neither of those changed the multi-ride pass discount.

Members of a ferry advisory committee had pressed for a third approach that would give a greater price break for multi-ride passes. That led to the option embraced by commissioners.

Commissioners are slated to adopt changes at their Aug. 10 meeting in Seattle. They will hold a final in-person hearing that day before taking action.

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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.