On The Second Meeting Of The Commissioners To Raise Fares

The  Second Working Meeting of the Board of County Commissioners(BOCC) to raise the fares on the Guemes Ferry held on April 17, 2023.

Fares to increase on July 1, 2023.

  • The current Ferry Fare Target Methodology originally codified in Resolutions R2010050/R20110382 is dead. It will be replaced by a new methodology which projects an increasing Operating and Maintenance (O&M) budget over the next five years.  The fare box revenue has to meet 65% of this projected amount, an increase of $737,000 over the current average fare box revenue of $1,154,077.  This represents a 63.86% increase. Realizing that this increase if levied in one year might have a deleterious economic impact on islanders, the Commissioners instructed their consultant, KPFF, to phase in this fare increase. This phased approach will see fare increases at the rate of about 14% each year for the next five years. KPFF constructed a model based on the projected 2023 annual O&M budget of $3,412,19, the highest in the history of the Guemes Ferry, and increases it by 2028 to $4,020,522, an inflation of 20.32% in that 5 year period. The first increase is slated for July 1, 2023. This model will be reviewed annually for adjustments by staff. The first review will be in January, 2025. The KPFF representative stated that there is no inclusion of the State Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax nor the State Deficit Reimbursement for county ferries credited to fare box revenue in this model. (Both these revenue streams are included in the current methodology.) The details of how this model will work are not immediately apparent.  For example, there is a line item labeled “Other Tax Revenue” of $348,000 applied to reduce each year’s projected O&M budget but it does not escalate nor is it clear what makes up this “Other Tax Revenue.”
  • The five-year projected O&M budgets are for the current diesel ferry, the Guemes.  No reductions in cost are projected for a new electric ferry or any other O&M savings. The Ferry Manager is tempering the original claims that the electric ferry will achieve a major reduction in O&M costs citing the need to replace its batteries in 8-10 years.  In other words, this pro forma (meaning projected numbers not actual numbers) is an artifice to ensure collection of the $737,000 2023 fare increase over five years and has nothing to do with the actual costs of operation.
  • Commissioner Wesen attempted to retain the current fare methodology but Director of Public Works, Grace Kahn, proceeded with the new model proposed by KPFF while Commissioners Janicke and Browning remained silent.
  • When the question was raised about public input in future fare adjustments, Grace Kahn said she knew very little about a ferry committee although she had requested a roster of the current members.  She said she had looked back two years and could find no minutes of meeting. Commissioner Browning then said that he found that a roster of members was a necessity and wanted information about who this committee represented. The net of this discussion was that there is no commitment to involve the ferry committee in the five projected fare increase reviews. (The ferry committee is specifically referenced in each of the previous ferry fare resolutions and was involved in each fare negotiation.)  
  • At the beginning of the Work Session, Commissioner Browning commented that the Bainbridge Ferries charged a fare each way with the implication that Guemes Islanders were getting a good deal with only a round trip charge.  Bainbridge Island is connected to the mainland by bridge. The Bainbridge Ferries are considered a convenience run and this, plus the bridge, results in a fare collection each way.  Guemes Island has no bridge and its ferry is considered an essential service. The majority of ferry runs in the State of Washington charge a round trip fare.
  • Commissioner Wesen asked if the 2023 Ferry Fare Revenue Target Report would be completed. Captain Rowe answered that with this new proposal on the table, there is no reason to continue the existing methodology.  She indicated that she completed the deficit report to the State County Road Administration Board (CRAB) applying for this year’s Deficit Reimbursement.
  • Commissioner Wesen also asked whether County Public Works trucks would be charged to ride and the answer Grace Kahn gave was that it made no sense to her to account for these trucks within one department.  Commissioner Wesen commented that he hoped there would be some way to identify and discount the fares for agricultural vehicles so that those farming on Guemes could survive economically.
  • Commissioner Janicki, who attended the meeting via ZOOM,  (Commissioners Wesen and Browning attended in person), said that she “got it” that families with children had to make multiple trips to Anacortes to ensure participation in educational and sports activities.  She supports the new plan’s fare exemption for youth under 18 years of age. (The necessity of this fare policy for youth will be impacted should the County terminate runs after 6:00 pm which was proposed in the first Work Session.)
  • After the meeting, Commissioner Wesen commented to a group of islanders, including ferry committee members, that the fare increase of 14% this year could have been accomplished using the existing methodology. (Because the existing model uses a five-year rolling average of the O&M based on actual cost, it would not have accommodated this year’s 63.86% fare increase.  It should also be noted that no public transit system be it subway, bus or ferry, can pay for its operations solely from fare box revenue.)  
  • Toward the end of the Work Session, reference was made to the sudden curtailment of service after the 8:30 pm run on Saturday, April 15, 2023.  Commissioner Janicke said that the major problem was the short lead time of the announcement, 8:02pm, before the cessation of service.  Grace Kahn commented that they called all potential replacement deck hands who either did not answer their phones or declined to step in to replace the deckhand who left the shift.  (The Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection (COI) requires a captain and two crew on board to operate the vessel. The vessel could not operate within the COI with only the captain and one crew.) The Ferry Manager then proposed a solution to create a full time fourth position, ostensibly the purser, to fill all the operational hours of the day. Currently the purser serves the mid-watch from about 9:00AM-5:00PM. Under the new scenario with the purser on for all scheduled runs, if one deck hand left, there would be another on hand to ensure continued operation.  (Such a solution will add significant cost to O&M but will not cover the unfortunate situation should a captain depart mid-shift. Perhaps a more cost-effective solution would be to pay the existing crew a better wage so they are motivated to respond positively to emergency calls whether they be a deckhand or a captain.)

- Steve Orsini

Tags: ferry