Draft plan cuts one P.T. ferry

If you want to comment in person on the two options in the state ferry system's proposed long-range plan, you'll have to travel quite a way to do it.

The state is hosting 10 public hearings on the draft plan between Jan. 5-21 but the closest ones will be in Port Townsend on Jan. 5 and Kingston on Jan. 14.

The hearings will feature a 30-minute presentation followed by a 90-minute public comment period.

The plan's first option essentially maintains the system's current operations, including building 10 new ferries and putting two ferries on the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

The second option includes annual 2.5-percent fare increases until fares pay the system's entire operating costs, five new ferries instead of 10 and just one ferry on the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

It also includes elimination of the Anacortes-Sidney, British

Columbia, route; elimination of night service on the Edmonds-Kingston and Seattle-Bremerton routes and elimination of some terminal improvements.

In addition to the public hearings, the draft long-range plan for services and investments through 2030 also is available online, where people may leave comments as well.

Ferry officials will use those comments to shape the final plan, which will be provided to the state Legislature on Jan. 31.

The Legislature begins its 105-day regular session on Jan. 12 and is scheduled to adjourn on April 26. Lawmakers will be writing the state's operating, capital projects and transportation budgets during the session.

When Initiative 695 passed in November 1999, the ferry system lost 20 percent of its operating budget and 75 percent of its capital budget.

Since 2000, fares have increased between 37 and 122 percent, depending on the route. Ticket prices were last increased in 2007, by 2.5 percent. Now the ferry operation is 70-percent supported by fares, up from 60 percent in 2000.

Formed in 1951, Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry system in the country, carrying more than 23 million passengers a year.

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