Photo by AdonisPhotos

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.

98 Replies to “The New Ferry Fare Proposal”

  1. I just turned 60 this year, so I guess I’ll be qualifying for those discounts soon. I’ve never understood the rationale for senior discounts. Most young people have limited resources. Even those from well off families. Some seniors do too, but as a group I think we’re significantly better off financially.

  2. It’s all to confusing indeed. The one complaint that I have is that all of the walk on ferry fares aren’t in 25 cent increments just like the buses, light rail and Sounder train fares. When I pay, I pay from the “E-purse” function on the Orca card. Having the ferry fares in 25 cent increments will help out alot.

    1. Raising fares by across-the-board percentages is what an agency does when they believe that their basic fare structure is practically perfect in every way. Or when they don’t want the political hassles of changes that might result in winners an losers. Or both.

    1. There’s a 25% peak SEASON surcharge on most routes May 1 through Sept 30(35% on the San Juan Island routes) on vehicles (not passengers) but the 10-ride vehicle pass fares are exempt from the surcharge. Thus every other fare goes down in winter (when demand drops) but not the “commuter vehicle” fare. There is no “peak surcharge” based on time of day – only season.

  3. Based on my experience as a fair-weather weekend rider, the ferry is way too cheap — whenever I ride, the demand far exceeds the supply. We have to get to the ferry hours early. That is what discourages us from riding, not the price.

    They should also charge for the high-demand return sailings as well.

  4. “As of Fall 2012, a senior driving a small vehicle Cross Sound westbound in winter will pay only 90 cents more than an adult walk-on passenger.”

    As I’m reading the fare proposal, that vehicle fare is one-way, while the passenger fare is round trip, at least for Bremerton, Banbridge and Kingston.

    Criticizing the small vehicle fare seems wrong-headed. You can fit more small vehicles on the ferry; the new fare category could be revenue positive.

    1. Except for Pt Townsend/Coupeville and Anacortes/Sidney BC you only pay in one direction for walk ons.

  5. A few things, funding for the ferry system has increased since the system itself lost its primary funding (MVET) from Tim Eyman’s I-695… With the lost of the funding, the fares had to be increased to sustain the current service model.

    While I agree that the ferry fare system is a bit strange, it is fairly simple to understand when you sit down and study it. It is no different than ORCA and understand its fare structure.

    With all of that said, does it need a complete overhaul? No, not one bit but as a normal walk on passenger, I wouldn’t mind paying $2 to 4 more (on top of the current $7.10 fare) during the summer tourist season.

    On a more happy note though, during the 2011 legislative session the House and Senate passed SB 5742, which funded the construction of one 144-car ferry with a budget of $146.9 million per Laura Johnson @ WSDOT.

  6. I’m going to be rather contrarian here and say that it is time we look to replace these ferries with bridges. Yes, bridges across Puget Sound. If miles long bridges can be built across Lake Pontchartrain, or Tampa Bay, or the Mackinac Straights, we can build bridges across Puget Sound.

    Washington State ferries are expensive to build and operate and are ghastly in their greenhouse gas emissions profile compared to even the cars they carry.

    Yes,they’re romantic, fun to be on but the pragmatic part of me says build bridges at least for trains and buses.

    1. I highly doubt the depth of the Puget Sound would allow for any structural bridges to be built, not to mention the intersecting fault lines. Ferries are here to stay for that reason alone. They may be expensive but the maintenance of the bridges would be tenfold of the modern ferry boats in service today.

      1. The original plan was the ferries were temporary until the bridges could be built. Bridges pay for themselves with tolls. Ferries used to be a money making business (Black Ball) until the State stepped in. There were plans to bridge across to Bainbridge. The civil engineering was there 60-70 years ago. From a growth management standpoint I think more bridges whether cross Sound or Lake Washington are a bad idea. Just hike the prices on the ferry; it’s obviously a highly inelastic demand curve with prices in the $20-60 dollar range already and one to two boat waits the norm.

      2. Alki to Ft. Ward is about 3 miles. That’s gondola-sized distance! You’d need much better bus service on the island – though you might get away with a shuttle to Bainbridge or a parking lot at Ft. Ward. It’s then another 2.8 miles to Manchester, which would serve the Bremerton crowd as well (with a shuttle). Let’s see… Using a system with 6 stops, we can serve Bremerton, Bainbridge Island, Manchester, Alki, West Seattle, and connect the whole thing to downtown. The whole thing is quite a distance – 14 miles. That’s an entire hour to ride from Bremerton to downtown – exactly the current travel time. The Bainbridge – Alki section would only be 13 minutes. Add another 19 to get to downtown from there – that’s a 32 minute ride with no waiting. That’s a savings of 3 minutes from the current travel time.

        How much would this system cost? I have no idea. But it’s sure easier than building bridges. And probably cheaper than buying new ferries. Throw a bridge over Port Orchard, and get rid of one of the car ferry lines.

      3. I noted on my trip to Port Angeles last winter that the ferry crossing from Bainbridge to Seattle cost wise was comparable to the actual cost of gas + tolls in my 43 mpg Prius going all the way around through Tacoma or Olympia but also saved hours of driving.

      4. @matt – I presume that this is not a straight shot from downtown Seattle to Bremerton but rather a series of gondola hops right? Otherwise, an hour cooped up in a gondola could lead to interesting (or disgusting) messes.

      5. [Charles] Yes – click on my link. I’ve played with the route a bit, and I’m currently thinking: Downtown, W. Seattle, Alki, Southern tip of Bainbridge Island, Port Orchard, Bremerton. With a branch out to Eagle Harbor, since there’s nothing interesting on the southern tip of Bainbridge. The longest leg is 23 minutes.

    2. Ahh, yes, the good old Hood Canal ferry. I think they’ve gotten that bridge more or less floating (again).

    3. Part of the reason there are no bridges is that the west sounders and islanders didn’t want bridges or increased ferry service, because that would make them grow like Bellevue and Lynnwood.

      1. Well, what if we didn’t have ferries or bridges to the West Sound or Islands at all? But that would be the Libertarian attitude. Thank goodness I’m a Keynesian…

      2. They like the current ferry service, which is approximately hourly. Sometimes half-hourly at peak; sometimes 1 1/2 hours after 9pm. (Except Mukilteo-Clinton which is always half-hourly because it’s the shortest distance.) And they’re right that bridges or more ferries would have changed their rural character to small-lot suburbs, just like 520 caused even more growth than anticipated on the Eastside.

    4. Vashon freaked out when state propsed a cross-sound bridge via the Island a few years back. They were afraid it would lead to rampant sprawl and development. Similar attitudes can be found in most communities served by WSF.

      1. You could also forget about any kind of transit service west of the sound if ferries were replaced by bridges. The only reason residents of Kitsap county care enough about their bus service to justify paying for it is the limited car capacity of the ferries, combined with limited parking at the ferry terminal.

    5. But given that it’s the U.S., bridges wouldn’t be for “trains and buses”, they’d be for cars, and would massively increase the car traffic.

      This would be very bad. Bainbridge Island would likely become Bellevue #2, a sprawltastic horror-freak-show of asphalt and tacky architecture.

      A rail-only solution, like a subway tunnel or something, would at least do more to maintain (and perhaps improve) the walkable character of downtown Winslow… [The BI subway!]

      But they won’t build such a thing, of course, because it’s America.

      Basically, it’s ferries for the foreseeable future, so it’s good to think how to make them better…

      1. I’m telling you, gondolas are the way to go. Comparatively cheap, easy to build, no tunnels needed, frequent. Yes, they’re also slow – but so are ferries.

      2. The ferries do 20 knots (23 mph). A high speed gondola does ~17mph. When you average in load/unload times they’re probably a wash. Are you planning to use barges to support the lift towers or build something like offshore oil rigs. Doesn’t sound cheap to me. Maintenance? Remember that the Coast Guard is going to require something like a minimum height in navigable water of 150 feet meaning the towers will have to even higher. Then you’ve got bridge fenders, lighting to warn boats and seaplanes, vessels and crew at the ready for emergency evacuation… The ferries can easily accommodate more people at a low marginal cost. Foot traffic in effect subsidizes the cars. Why would the State want to build something that’s in direct competition?

      3. [Bernie] I obviously haven’t thought through the construction details more than: Any structure you’d need for a bridge will be (much) easier with a gondola. Are you going to use offshore oil rigs for your car bridge? Sounds like a lot of pressure on your bridge as the tide’s going out during a windstorm.

        Maybe if I have some time I’ll look at naval charts to see if there are any reasonably shallow areas to mount towers. I know we can go almost 2 miles between towers, if needed (though they’d have to be pretty tall to accomplish that). How many miles between structures can you run your bridge?

      4. Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge has the longest central span of any suspension bridge at 6,532 ft and covers a total distance of 12,830 ft. Worlds longest gondola, Peak to Peak at Whistler covers 14,500; longest free span is 1.88 miles with a sag of 3,600 feet. Of course it doesn’t have to climb 3,600′ (twice) before dropping back down. The bridge toll is around $30 (on par with our ferry fares (I bet they don’t charge extra for passengers) and is expected to pay off construction cost ($4.3 billion in 1998). Peak to Peak only cost CDN$51 million to build. If you just built a pedestrian bridge it would obviously be a lot less but it would never pay for itself. Unless the gondolas can carry a car it’s a non-starter.

      5. “Unless the gondolas can carry a car it’s a non-starter.” Of course, [Bernie], I forgot cars are mandatory in your world view. It makes oh so much sense to spend billions of dollars (and it would certainly cost billions) to build the massive infrastructure for cars to move back and forth.

        How about we move the people, not the cars? A gondola would cost a small fraction of the price of a bridge, and most people are going in/near the city anyway. We could even compromise and keep the Bainbridge Island car ferry, and build a little bridge at Port Orchard to keep Bremerton drivers happy.

        Besides, from comments on this page it sounds like a car bridge is a non-starter.

      6. “to spend billions of dollars (and it would certainly cost billions) to build the massive infrastructure for cars to move”

        An important point. People are already uncomfortable about the cost of the AWV and 520 projects (and some about the similar costs of Link). But the AWV and 520 are essentially maintenance on existing highways. Who is going to stand up and say a bridge to the west sound is so essential we must spend billions of dollars for it?

  7. I would caution using state-wide average poverty figures. Puget Sound’s island communities are not very “average”, even compared to each other they vary a lot. I think the big question you’re asking with relation to youth vs. senior discount is what is that reason that seniors have more of a discount than youth?

    Just thinking about discounts I see in daily life, especially in the transportation sector, seniors typically have more of a discount. I think that probably stems from a social belief that we need to care for our old more that other population segments and that they are more frail, both physically and financially than other age segments. In the transportation sector it could also be a belief that seniors don’t travel in peak periods as much as other groups because they aren’t commuting to or from work and school and that the trips that they make might be more necessary, like to the grocery store or hospital.

    On the flip side you can say that youth don’t have their own income and if they travel frequently on the ferry system it is likely for school or some other opportunity that is important for their future.

    I think you could make a lot of arguments both ways, which is why both do get a discount in the first place. I think in the end though it really comes down to values and how you balance those values.

    1. I vote C. B/c seniors are the most likely demographic to vote and youth can’t vote at all.

      1. I’m sure that plays in too although fares are set by the Washington State Transportation commission in this case, not electeds. I was mostly thinking about the social argument for reduced fares for certain population segments.

    2. I would caution against making assumptions about the absence of poverty in ferry dependent communities. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, about 60% of students in the Bremerton School District qualify for free or reduced lunches. Why should those kids have to pay 60% more than a wealthy senior for transit to access medical care or cultural opportunities in Seattle? Ferries are public transit.

      1. My point was that state averages don’t really help because no one place is average, and certainly not ferry dependent communities. For example I’m sure that Bainbridge Island has some of the lowest poverty rates in the state, in contrast to your example. I’m not saying there aren’t people in poverty, I just don’t find statewide average as the best measures.

  8. “Many companies practice price discrimination, charging different customers different prices for the same good or service to maximize revenue.”

    This post is an odd one. You point out the fallacy (in your opinion) in there being different price points for seniors vs youth but then argue for there to be an even greater price point difference than now for youth vs adult. So if you are concerned about the age “discrimination” in fares, you would be fine with seniors, youth and adults all paying the same fare?

    1. Price Discrimination is a common term in economics, and it does not have any negative connotation. On the contrary, it is considered a good thing for companies to try as much as possible to charge people based on their ability to pay, as it is a more efficient allocation of resources. I don’t think the author here was criticizing the basic practice of differing prices for differing groups, but rather doesn’t like the particular set of prices.

  9. This is perfectly easy to understand. Not sure what the confusion is about.

    Seniors vote. Kids don’t.

  10. What’s interesting about ferries is that they have effectively two completely different markets.

    1. Vehicles. This is space-limited. It makes sense to charge less for smaller vehicles, since the more you can cram on the more money you’ll make. Bikes and motorcycles should be dirt cheap since they take almost no room, and trucks should be very expensive. It also makes sense to keep the prices high, since you have a limited resource. If you ever turn away a vehicle from lack of space, you’re not charging enough. Based on the huge lines I’ve seen and how often cars have to wait for the next ferry, WSF isn’t charging nearly enough.

    2. Walk-on passengers. This is not space-limited, and is effectively an unlimited resource. You can charge as little as you want and the ferry won’t fill up. This means you set the price based on either what people are willing to pay, or what benefits society (since this is a public good). This is a bit like bottled water – it doesn’t matter how much it costs to produce (in the case of water, probably about a dime), you charge what people will pay. If this were a business, you’d charge each group a rate just painful enough that most people will still pay it and not find some other way across the water. If ridership drops by 10%, you’re charging too much. Being a public agency, this is the maximum you should charge and can drop down based on social goals.

    Based on these two markets, I’d probably dramatically increase the price of vehicles before I’d increase any walk-on group. I’d probably also offer a family rate to encourage families to not drive their car around the long way. I’m not sure about the elderly rate – I’d probably prefer to have a low income monthly walk-on pass that doesn’t factor in age.

    1. But Matt: you’re point of reference is central-sound routes at rush hour or other peak times, like holidays or weekends. There are PLENTY of trips and routes where there are only a handful of cars. Variable pricing would be ideal, but I think it would confuse and upset a lot of people.

      I also don’t think they should cut routes and reduce frequency due to lack of demand (midday and late night) because people still depend on those services, and many people are located on the peninsula or island BECAUSE they know they can rely on that 1 AM ferry back after an M’s game, or what-have-you.

      1. We don’t have to go to full variable pricing to get much of the benefits. Simple peak/non-peak pricing would work fine. Just like buses. Except unlike buses, you’d have weekend peak hours as well.

    2. Walk-on passengers. This is not space-limited, and is effectively an unlimited resource. You can charge as little as you want and the ferry won’t fill up.

      Hmm, never ridden the ferry at rush-hour, eh…?

      1. I have, and haven’t seen any issues. We could certainly reconfigure the ferries if there’s really a capacity problems for pedestrians. Have you ever been told to wait for the next ferry, as a walk-on passenger?

      2. @Matt
        No, and certainly, it’s certainly nothing like a crush load on a subway.

        But it does get uncomfortably full, e.g., where one spends half the journey wandering the boat trying to find a place to sit (the ferry really isn’t designed for standing passengers), or just walking around.

        The fact that it’s seemingly so close to “nominal” (seated) capacity suggests that something is limiting ridership at that level — it seems pretty unlikely that the number of people that potentially want to ride the ferry exactly matches capacity. Maybe the crowded conditions discourage some people from riding at those times and over time ridership has adapted to the capacity.

        During special events, of course, things can get even more crowded, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did sometimes turn people away in such instances — I guess the ferry probably does have a passenger limit that’s much less than a crush-load, due to safety regulations (number of life-jackets, etc).

      3. I’ll bet it’s the other way around – the furniture has been optimized for the passenger load. It probably doesn’t vary that much, since a significant portion of a full-load ferry is from the car passengers.

        If they ever did consistently overfill it should be trivial to add more life vests and inflatable rafts, and they could convert tables to seats, move seats closer together, etc. I’ve been on high speed commuter ferries in Europe, and the interior looks more like an airplane. I doubt we’ll need to go that far, but we could.

      4. Growing up around here, I remember a lot less seats on the ferry than there are now. All those seats away from the windows that are in rows and rows kind of like first-class airline seating used to be more tables and chairs kind of like they are next to the windows, if I remember right (which I may not). So I’d guess that the seat-optimization thing is probably what happened.

  11. Thanks Ann for the post. For the past 6 months, Whatcom Co has been struggling to bring ferry costs down and revenue up. They commissioned a Ferry Task Force of citizens to examine statewide practices, current conditions and made many reccomendations to balance income with costs.
    Here’s the final report submitted last week.
    Average citizens did some incredible work identifying the commodities they were selling (deck space or cabin space), to whom, and tried to rationalize fares that maximized revenues, acknowledged social needs, and how the ferry ride is just one segment of the total trip (costs).
    Time will tell whether the Council will adopt some or all of the 60+ recommendations presented.

  12. 1) Charge for vehicles by length as they do now but up the rates. Stop charging for passengers in the vehicle. The more people you bring the more likely they are to buy something from the food service. 2) decrease the over height surcharge. RV’s, especially trailers are already paying a hefty premium and center space has never been an issue that I’ve ever seen. 3) Reduce passenger and bicycle fares substantially. The marginal cost is close to zero. Sell them sandwiches and beer. 4) Make much better use of leasing space at all the ferry terminals. There should be a high end waterfront restaurant at every one along with souveniers, etc. 4) Look at slower running speeds off peak to save fuel and set fares to even off demand. 5) Privatize the operations providing an initial subsidy that decrease over time. The State pay structure is fatally broken. 6) Eliminate the built in Washington clause for the purchase of new vessels.

      1. All I know is that none of the WSF ferries I’ve ridden since I’ve returned to this area have had the galleys open. That includes cross sound service and San Juan Island service.

      2. According to the WSF link, food service should have been operating on the boats I traveled on. But it was not.

    1. Seriously, I’ve always wondered why there’s no retail of some sort –food/newstand/whatever — in the Bainbridge Island terminal [warning: I haven’t been to the area in a few years, so maybe there is now!]

      I’ve certainly spent seemingly vast amounts of time cooling my heels in the BI terminal waiting for the next ferry (I try to time things so I don’t need to wait, but sometimes I can’t for whatever reason, or time it too closely and end up missing the ferry!). There are usually others there too, and it can get crowded at times!) One can only re-read random advertising pamphlets for so long before going completely nuts…

      It seems a ripe area for development if you ask me (BI residents are not exactly poor either…

      The Seattle side is a bit better — at least at some points there have been truly nice restaurants in the terminal — but even it’s still seemingly a bit underutilized, given the often very crowded conditions.

      Are the rents the ferry system charges just too high, or are there other factors at work?

      1. I don’t know the answer to your question, but it seems to me the ferry terminal is in prime real estate area. I’d lid the whole parking area and put in restaurants, retail, maybe even condos on top with waterfront views. Ideally I’d get rid of car ferries downtown and convert to walk-on only. But that’s a different post.

      2. There’s a coffee stand and a bike rental shop with storage rental and that’s about it. Mega potential going unused. And try to find info on KC Metro or ST Link, go ahead, I dare you. It’s not even on the boat. You have to wait until you’re at Coleman Dock in which case the time you wasted probably cost you your first connection.

    2. If you don’t charge for passengers in the vehicle, how do you prevent walk-ons from hopping into a vehicle with available passenger space? A “black market” in passenger space would be the outcome, unless NO passenger fares were charged, in which case the state would lose revenue – lots of people would stop driving on and walk on for free. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea – only that it won’t work along with high farebox goals.

      1. I practice, I have difficulty imagining a significant number of people knocking on a stranger’s car and saying “hey, can you please let me in while you cross the fare gates so I don’t have to pay”. The social taboos against such behavior are just too much.

        It would matter in a few corner cases, such as someone taking the bus to the ferry, then meeting a friend who’s driving on for the rest of the trip. But, I doubt such cases occur frequently enough to make a non-trivial difference in fare revenue.

      2. Right now there’s lots of cars with bike racks or have room to fit a bike inside but I’ve never seen a cyclist try to dodge the bike surcharge that way. It’s actually pretty easy to control. The terminals are fenced and you just demand payment to enter like any subway station in Europe. I don’t see a lot of people inviting strangers into their cars to make a buck. The bottom line is the more people that leave their cars at home the less service the State has to provide. That means not having to buy Super Duper Jumbo Mega Class ferries and potentially cutting back the number of runs which would allow slower more economical speeds.

  13. The Commission is meeting in PSRC’s conference room on Western Avenue–About a block from Coleman Dock. Would not consider it Belltown- for those of us born here would consider it part of the waterfront area.

    1. Yeah, I wouldn’t call anything completely south of Pike Place Market “Belltown”, let alone anything closer to Pioneer Square than the Market.

  14. As Adam points out, state-wide poverty figures aren’t going to match up very well with ferry riders, especially for the islands. According to a survey commissioned by the state transportation commission in 2008, the median household income for ferry riders is $81,242. “Bainbridge was found to be the most affluent route with a median household income of $95,889, while riders of the Bremerton route had the lowest incomes” [here]. WSF should be charging rich island-bound riders a hell of a lot more, while giving a break to working-class folks who can and will choose to drive around instead. And get rid of the bulk commuter ticket discounts and start charging peak fares. Like every other transportation system in the region.

  15. Does anyone suggest better alternatives?

    Ferries, by their nature are based on distance traveled. Why not buses and trains, too? Boarding fares for a short bus trip shouldn’t be the same as for a transfer with long mileage. Fixed price for one person’s space sitting or standing. I see the sense in different pricing for different vehicle lengths. Multiple fares for switching from bus to rail or other public transport shouldn’t require two fares. This could all be accomplished with chips in debit-like cards.

    1. Link fares are in fact distance based even though it doesn’t seem like it. It will become more apparent as EastLink and NorthLink are built out.

      If we went to an all ORCA fare payment system, you could do tap on/off with distance calculations on buses. (or charge a max fare if you fail to tap off.

  16. While I understand many posters here calling for increased fares when the boat is full and there is plenty of demand, please keep in mind that in the case of Mukilteo-Clinton that only certain runs may warrant the extra charge. Many are under capacity, so should there be a discount program to encourage drivers to catch a later boat?

    I agree that if fares are going towards a lower rate for cars and a higher rate proportionately for walk-ons is ridiculous. I buy my monthly pass and I admit it is a good deal. I’ll even pay more, but please make it not hurt that much. The most important thing to me is consistency, the staff at Mukilteo can’t seem to make up their mind as to how to run thins on the dock sometimes. It can get frustrating…

    1. While discounting the off-peak has the same effect as putting a surcharge on the peak, you’ve got a strong point. If you don’t do some form, you’re underpricing the most valuable capacity, and overpricing the capacity that’s less valuable–and that, as you points out, screws those who use the system when demand is lower.

  17. Count me with the people who want higher fares for cars and lower fares for other passengers. Fares should be more proportional to the marginal costs of the people and vehicles being transported.

    1. So, if there were fewer cars would you favor increased passenger fares? After all, the WSF have fixed overhead to cover and a crossings costs a certain minimum amount of money regardless of if they are carrying any cars or people.

      1. Charles, hope you don’t mind if I jump in. That kind of was my point earlier when I said maybe WSF should have sales on certain runs to see if they could maximize space utilization on the boats, in this case the Cathlamet and Kittitas.

        I don’t know about discounts for autos, but BC Ferries has a super saver discount that works wonders getting to/from Twassen and Swartz Bay via walk-on. Though I favor raising some rates as others here seem to feel is appropriate, making a case for discounts isn’t really that unrealistic if it met the criteria of space utilization and raised a equal amount of revenue or greater.

      2. My point was that the Washington State Ferries should operate efficiently which means serving the greatest number of people, in a timely manner for the least cost. Preferably without a taxpayer operating subsidy.

        The suggestion to raise car fares without a comparable fare increase for passengers was puzzling and from one viewpoint another front on “the war on cars”. But, if price discrimination would achieve an overall increase in “profit” while maximizing utilization then it is something to look at.

    2. Screw marginal costs. Fares should be set at the level which makes the best use of available capacity. (Of course, in this case, that leads to a similar result…)

  18. The Ride Free Direction should be removed. Too many freeloaders take advantage and go one direction for free. Not to mention the number of smelly homeless people that ride the ferries because of this.

    1. The Ride Free Direction should be removed. Too many freeloaders take advantage and go one direction for free. Not to mention the number of smelly homeless people that ride the ferries because of this.

      Joke, right…?

      1. Yeah. I’m still bitter that they’re removing the ride free area downtown. I’ll get over it someday.

    2. The purpose of the free eastbound is so that people won’t get stuck on the islands or penninsula with no way to get home.

      1. Also, with the one-way-only fare, it ends up being a lot cheaper to take a nice ferry ride than taking an Argosy cruise for tourists. Peak season, it’s $22.50 for a one-hour harbor cruise, vs. $7.10 for the ferry to Bainbridge. If I’m escorting an out-of-town guest, they don’t need an Argosy guide explaining what they’re seeing, they can just ask me. Plus, then we can get off in Bainbridge and do some window-shopping in Winslow and get some ice cream.

      2. The fare is really a round-trip fare though. :) If they charged both ways it would be half as much, so the total would still be $7.10.

        Auto fares are charged each way separately to the penninsula, but round-trip to the islands. (Although from Sidney it’s each way.) Walk-ons between the San Juans ride free.

  19. I think the ferries are the only part of the State highway system that fines you if you’re not a SOV driver. On 167 we’ve spend a pile of cash on a system that also looses money to charge SOV drivers in the HOT lanes. Go figure?

  20. As to giving discounts for monthly passes…that is/sounds ridiculous. Take a lesson from the coffee carts and give a discounts for use. Every ten, a free one…or whatever. Some won’t buy a monthly pass if they will be on vacation for a week or two, so that encourages driving. This goes for bus and ferry tickets.

  21. Keep in mind that any transit agency that accepts Federal funding is required to keep the edlerly/disabled fares at half the regular full fare. So yes, it does seem like elderly/disabled get a disproportionate advantage but that is a requirement of Federal funding.

    It would also be useful to understand that if you lowered the youth fare, how much additional ridership would you need to generate the same amount of revenue. If you are not able to achieve those ridership targets, which fare categories would you have to raise to make up the revenue shortfall.

    Believe me, no planner wants to raise fares and/or cut service but it is necessary to maximize revenue and maintain a balanced budget. That is what it is all about these days.

    1. Paul,
      I don’t think your assertion is entirely accurate – although I’ve heard David Moseley say it. According to the Federal Transportation Administration, “. . . the provision for charging half-fare during non-peak hours to the elderly, persons with disabilities or any person presenting a Medicare card applies only to recipients who receive Section 5307 urbanized area formula program funds.” Other grants and federal funds are available without regard to fare structure. Section 5307 funds are capital funds administered by the Puget Sound Regional Council. Does WSF even receive Section 5307 funding? According to “FFY 2012 FTA Formula Funds Distributed to PSRC”, WSF is getting zero Section 5307 funding in 2012. Even though WSF used to receive such funds in the past, does Washington still want the federal government to determine elements of the ferry fare structure, thus influencing demographics of the ferry dependent communities? Perhaps the state would prefer to offer age-based discounts only to state residents (with a WA driver’s license number as proof of residency), but give Washington children the same discount as Washington seniors, as they did in the past. (Non-residents could still be eligible for the demand based “Wave to Go” discounts.) That would likely be revenue positive, more equitable, and politically viable (if it is legal).

      1. “does Washington still want the federal government to determine elements of the ferry fare structure, thus influencing demographics of the ferry dependent communities?”

        Do you really think a poor/disabled/underage person would spend thousands of dollars to move to the west sound or east sound because of a less than $5 difference in the ferry fare.

  22. “Increasing the youth discount could increase ferry fare revenue since families could better afford to take the ferry instead of driving around.”

    Ferries, unlike any other form of public transport, do not compete with cars – especially with regards to the San Juan and Vashon islands that have no other public access at all. The closest thing most of the other routes have to competition is the Narrows Bridge, or in the case of Mukilteo-Clinton, SR 20 from Whidbey to Mount Vernon. All of these involve taking a substantially longer way around, although I could see people taking the alternative to Mukilteo-Clinton. Thus, I’m not seeing how cutting youth fares alone will attract new ferry riders, other than in placing more value on the destinations reachable with the ferries.

    1. I believe at present, the cost of taking the ferry for a car full or 4 people is more expensive than the gas for driving around if you’ve got a relatively fuel-efficient car. Especially if you play games where you drive around the westbound direction and take the ferry back eastbound where its cheaper.

      1. Even with our van that only gets 18mpg it’s cheaper in gas to drive around even with no passeger fares (and you’ve already incurred the fixed cost if you’re driving onto the ferry). And since we are going from Bellevue to Kingston it’s just as fast when you count load/unload time. Way faster if you have to wait one or more boats.

      2. Eric,

        That “game” you’re talking about is actually encouraged by WSDOT: the Narrows Bridge is free on the “away” trip (vis-a-vis Seattle) and the ferries are free on the “toward” trip, at least for passengers.

        We live in Vancouver WA but have the use of my wife’s family’s summer home near Hansville. We OFTEN take a counter-clockwise loop driving to SR16 and across the free direction then using the ferries to go to Seattle for a visit with friends. I’m 65 so I drive and get the discount while my wife rides free. I know I’m a jerk but that’s the way the game is set up.

        We simply wouldn’t do it the other direction.

      3. In my experience, for Seattle-Bremerton, it’s quicker (if you include wait time) and cheaper to drive around the long way.

        Ditto for the Mukilteo-Clinton.

        Not sure why we have these runs, other than historical precedent. There certainly doesn’t seem to be the political will to fund them.

      4. According to Google it’s faster for us to use Seattle/Bainbridge than Edmonds/Kingston if trying to drive from Bellevue to Hansville. Yeah, right, battle DT Seattle traffic; I don’t think so. 16 and I-5 through Tacoma can be rough. But 512/167 is always an option. Yet, on a holiday weekend ferry traffic will be backed up on the Kingston side all the way to 4 Corners. Obviously they are massively under charging for the ferry. I believe the New Narrows is supposed to be 100% funded through tolls as was the first second bridge.

  23. The biggest problem with the ferry system today is that some many users feel they have to drive on to use it because the quality of public transit serving the ferries is so sub-par.

    Bainbridge Island and Bremerton are the best because, at least, they leave from downtown where service is good. On the other side, while service is decent enough on weekdays, it’s almost useless for anyone from Seattle doing a daytrip because you have to take time off work in order to use it. To date, I’ve used Kitsap transit exactly once and that one time was the last bus of the day on a Friday evening (I spent the night at a hotel – the next day, someone had to drive me back to the ferry because the last bus of the day had long gone).

    Saturday service has such a short operating span that it’s almost a joke – does anyone really expect someone to take a 2-hour bus+ferry+bus trip to somewhere on the Kitsap Paninsula, then turn around and make a 2-hour trip back after staying for only an hour or so? And Sunday service doesn’t exist at all, unless you count the shuttle to the casino.

    And that’s assuming that you’re going no further than Poulsbo. You want to go further, say Port Townsend/Port Angelas, you have to deal with multiple transfers to a service that only runs every couple of hours at best. On paper, it’s reasonably quick. But, if anything goes wrong, you’re stuck at a deserted bus stop for hours, possibly even overnight (or 2 nights if the next day is Sunday).

    At other ferries, such as Edmonds->Kingston and Mulkilteo->Clinton, the problem gets worse because you have to deal with Community Transit, in addition to Kitsap/Island transit. On Sundays, there is no service whatsoever to any of the four above ferries, unless you count 2 daily Amtrak trips to Edmonds. While the Sounder may be decent enough for commuters, for Seattle residents, any Sounder->ferry trip is virtually impossible without an overnight stay somewhere on the other side of the ferry. Plus, you have to take half a day off work to get packed and head downtown in time to catch the last Sounder trip of the day at 5:30 in the afternoon.

    I understand that a large number of ferry users, particularly people who’s cars are loaded with kayaks or camping gear would be virtually impossible to serve with public transport – there are some types of trips that a car is simply best for. But there are also people who are simply going to the major towns in the area who would gladly ride a bus to their destination if there were an affordable option that didn’t involve building one’s schedule around and didn’t involve playing Russian Roulette as to whether a trip takes 3 hours or 30 hours. The Dungeness Line sort-of does this – it at least won’t leave you stranded somewhere. But it still has just two trips per day and is quite expensive, especially for groups or families.

    While the area west of the Sound is mostly rural, there are a surprisingly small number of major highways traversing it. Simply running buses up and down the major highways should be sufficient to get most people within a few miles of where they’re going. Kitsap, Jefferson, and Clellam transit already do this, but their schedules are currently way too sparse to be useful. For last-mile issues, a more reliable taxi system could fill in the gap and still keep the price within an affordable range. Bikes, of course, could work even better, provided that buses are equipped to carry them.

    Of course one reason why all this will never happen is that bus service in each county is currently funded by the taxpayers of that county. Taxpayers of Kitsap County are, naturally, most willing to fund a bus service during the times when it benefits the residents of their county the most (rush hour, weekdays) and are less willing to fund bus service during other times when the benefits are more spread out with people from neighboring counties further east.

    1. What you’re talking about are excursions. It would be wonderful if I could just take Friday off and roll down to the airport and catch a flight to Paris for 20% of the actual cost and then return at any random time. Not the point of public transit and certainly not what you’re going to run up against if you do go to Paris. Yeah, that little jaunt out into the country is going to cost you dearly and you need reservations way in advance. And these folks are socialists. Come on people. If you want to live in a city and walk to the grocery store don’t expect someone else to pick up the tab for your weekend follies and pretend that it’s “sustainable”.

      1. Excuse me? Are you saying the purpose of public transit is only to serve business commuters? Then give me back my friggen tax money because by your logic I shouldn’t be subsidizing businesses!

        No, the purpose of public transit is to provide mobility to the public to do what ever they want to do, whether it is to travel to their jobs, the grocery store, to a sporting event, to visit their grandma or to visit a tourist attraction.

      2. And further more, The United State is not and has never been a libertarian utopia where every facet of life is privately owned and toll-gated. We thankfully live in a “mixed economy” where there is a mix of private ownership and public activity to regulate markets particularly where the profit motive does not meet public needs. Transportation is one of those areas where public involvement is appropriate whether it is granting land use/ROW’s for roads, or funding transit systems. You can brand it socialism but it is not.

        The encroachment of libertarian ideas that are destroying the long held ideals of the American democracy has led demonstrably to the decline in the standard of living for most Americans over the past few decades.

    2. “a more reliable taxi system could fill in the gap and still keep the price within an affordable range”

      Interesting idea. Aren’t there already taxis in the west sound counties? But at a dollar or more a mile, it’s easy to blow $50 on just one trip. If Metro were operating in these areas, it would have DART instead of regular buses, which is more like a taxi. (Of course it would keep the existing bus routes because ferry commuters would overwhelm the DART system.) So it really comes down to, the west sounders are not willing to fund transit enough to provide DART routes, or they’ve never been given the opportunity to consider it.

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