02/12/2005: "WSF. Who Can Blame Them? I Do!"
To all decision makers regarding the Washington State Ferry System
On March 2nd we, in the San Juan Islands, will be addressing our concerns regarding proposed changes to our sole physical connection with the mainland.
I can't help but feel we will be addressing our concerns to fellow victims of the Legislature. Washington State Ferries (WSF) are proposing these changes because of lack of funding by the Legislature. Hence, the system is a fellow victim. The Legislature has been hiding behind the skirts of the Transportation Commission and the Department of Transportation for far too many years. Today, we are suffering from the lowest level of service, in the San Juans, than at any time in my 22 years of residency in the Islands. Our fleet reflects, visually, the lack of maintenance in the fleet. We experience mechanical problems on a regular basis. There is no food service available.
The question becomes: How far are we going to let one of the top tourist attractions in Washington State, and our only means of getting home, or away from home, deteriorate? As a result of the neglect of the System, the Management is now proposing a ridiculous method to raise the fares so that they can keep the System solvent. Who can blame them? I do!
The proposed electronic card idea is certainly not a bad idea. However the plan of implementing the plan is not in the best interest of the System, or the people they serve. Declining ridership cannot be fixed by raising fares. Those of us in the Islands have pretty much accepted the 5+5+5 plan as necessary. The ride equity plan has not met much resistance. However, even with these plans in place it will cost over $80.00 for a family of four to come to Friday Harbor this Summer. It is my feeling ridership will continue to decline. In the long run there is nothing gained.
Now comes a plan for electronic cards. These cards can be programmed any way the system determines. The proposed way is to remove the 25% ninety day discount of the commuter books, and replace it with a thirty day 25% discount and a 15% ninety day discount. This proposal is not acceptable. In many cases families will alternate shopping trips, thereby reducing ridership.
I offer an alterative. The card could be purchased for a minimum of $100.00. Larger amounts could be made available in any amount the rider wishes to pay. The cards would be good for ninety days. The cards should reflect a 20% discount for all fares, excluding the senior and handicapped fares.
The card would be presented at the toll booth and swiped to include the proper amount for whatever is required. Once the card is purchased it belongs to the purchaser. The purchaser should be able to use the card in any fashion he, or she, wishes. Since the trip is already paid for it is none of WSF's business how the owner wishes to spend the credit on the card. The owner of the card has purchased a designated dollar amount of service from WSF. The service obtained should be at the discretion of the card owner.
The above proposal is simple and workable. It provides an increase of 5% over today's fares and seems to be a reasonable compromise. WSF has indicated that some commercial rates will be decreased so that they are more in line with regional rates. Is that to say the non-commercial rates will be increased because there is no competition?
WSF is expanding the "Surcharge" season. Yet the "Surcharge" season does not correspond with the schedules. It seems to me that the "Surcharge" season should correspond with the summer schedule. That is when operating expenses increase.
One more point. Why are the ferries, owned by WSDOT, that cross the Columbia River in Eastern Washington free?
Wm. J. LaPorte