by ANN DASCH
Many companies practice price discrimination, charging different customers different prices for the same good or service to maximize revenue. Think of coupons, matinee movies, senior or bulk discounts. The Washington State Ferry System practices price discrimination. For instance, they charge senior passengers half the adult fare, and raise most vehicle fares in summer in response to increased seasonal vehicle demand.
When WSF had growing ridership, they charged school aged children half the adult fare, just like seniors. During several fare changes since 1998, WSF reduced the youth discount – as well as the bulk discount on the 10-ride passenger pass – to its present level of 20% off.
According to the Office of Financial Management, 16.2% of Washington’s children live in poverty compared to 7.7% of seniors and 11.7% of adults. Yet a child (age 6 to 18) pays 60% more than a senior (even non-residents) for the same ferry trip. It costs over 20% more for an adult to take a child roundtrip on the ferry than it costs that adult to take a motorcycle (non-peak, Cross Sound roundtrip). The youth discount is far too small. Increasing the youth discount could increase ferry fare revenue since families could better afford to take the ferry instead of driving around.
Instead of increasing the youth discount, WSF’s new fare proposal decreases the youth discount and the 10-ride pass discounts, while it maintains the senior passenger discount and actually lowers fares for some vehicles. Drivers of small vehicles (< 14’) will pay less than their current fare, and supersize vehicles (20’ to 22’ long) will pay less than half their current round trip costs if they use the multi-ride standard vehicle pass next summer ($21.14 versus $45.60 today). As of
Fall 2012 October 2013, a senior driving a small vehicle Cross Sound westbound in winter will pay only 90 cents more than an adult walk-on passenger. This fare proposal will further discourage families from using the ferries while making ferry use cheaper for small vehicles and 20’ to 22’ vehicles – especially for senior and commuter drivers.
The ferry system has lost over 15% of its riders since 1999. Couldn’t the disproportionate fare increases on tickets purchased by families be a cause of those declines? The relationships between the fares matter. They influence rider behaviors, the mix of vehicles versus passengers, fare revenue collected, as well as the demographics of ferry dependent communities. Our government must fix the state’s ferry fare structure. The new plan makes it worse.
[Editor’s Note: The Washington State Transportation Commission is holding their final meeting on this subject Wednesday, August 24th, at 1pm in Belltown.]
Ms. Dasch serves on the Anderson Island Ferry Issues Study Committee. Anderson Island is served by Pierce County Ferries, not Washington State Ferries, although PCF tends to use WSF fares as a guideline.