Weimer analysis of Council fare options, offers new one

Carl Weimer has emailed a brief analysis of the current Council (#6, #11) ‘preferred options’ and PLIC’s “temporary $2 surcharge” idea, and offered a a new suggested option along with his reasoning, and a spreadsheet of fare data and his assumptions.

Carl’s descriptions and explanations are straightforward, clear and succinct, for which I think we should all be grateful    Wynne

13 thoughts on “Weimer analysis of Council fare options, offers new one

  1. Having read through Carl Weimer’s proposal I think it highlights some of the concerns that I have had with the other proposals on the table.

    I strongly disagree with the PLIC proposal as I think it unfairly targets passenger fares without recognizing that not all passenger fares are walk-ons. Part of the goal as pointed out by Carl is to encourage both walk-ons and passengers to mitigate overloads during peak hours.

    I also think that he is right concerning the notion that the increase should be temporary. It is pretty clear that the council can revisit the fare issue as needed or whenever the mood strikes. Calling for a fare to be ‘temporary’ doesn’t really accomplish anything when it is clear that there needs to be a fare adjustment.

    I do however disagree with the notion of some sort of ferry advisory board until this idea is developed more fully. I am concerned that the ferry advisory board may be selected from only a few people and my not necessarily reflect the diversity of island opinion on this issue.

    PLIC has put much time and effort into promoting one viewpoint. This viewpoint is not representative of the entire island. I don’t know that the island has just one viewpoint. PLIC has made decisions, as they are entitled to, as what they believe is the most effective approach to support their viewpoint. That approach does not include discussion of alternative viewpoints or input. I would be strongly opposed to see this approach carried over to a ferry advisory board.

    It’s pretty clear that citizen input, as Wynne has pointed out, has been effective. I think some of the most important and persuasive information has come from non-PLIC messages. Particular thanks goes to Nancy Ging for her extensive analysis of the budget.

    Janice

    • I think we need a county ferry advisory board would include 7-9 members, with no more than 50% islanders on it, plus specific qualifications for at least some of the advisory positions. That’s because unless islanders pay 100% of ferry system costs (now and future), other county citizens need to have their say as well. We all need to keep in mind that the ferry may be our lifeline to the mainland, but we are not the only ones who benefit by it or pay for it.

      More details soon.

      • I agree with Janice on this one. Skagit County has a ferry advisory board for the Guemes ferry, but despite hours and hours of work by the board to develop policy recommendations, their County Council has repeatedly ignored the board’s recommendations on important issues.

        Until and unless we have a County administration willing to give an advisory board some actual powers–by ordinance–I personally think it’s a waste of time.

        I also think the last thing we need is more people, the majority with no marine expertise, making recommendations about how to manage the ferry. One of the problems we have right now, as I see it, is decision making based on supposition, rumor, and guesswork instead of actual facts and the input of people with real expertise.

        • A note on PLIC’s proposals on fares and a task force – speaking for myself.

          To clarify, as there a lot of ideas flying around, what PLIC has proposed is a task force that would have finite period of existence – not a long term advisory board.That’s not to say that PLIC members don’t support such a board, just that no position has been taken on it.

          Personally, I support a task force as a bridge to well-organized regular dialogue with the county on ferry issues. A task force could study approaches that have worked or not worked to building such a group and itself serve as an example of constructive dialogue.A permanent ferry advisory board is best not born out of a time of crisis.

          I strongly support Wynne’s point that a board, and the task force, needs to have buy-in by county officials and some mainland expertise as well.

          On PLIC’s fare proposal, Option 1, I think it is important to remember, as Nancy points out, that it was intended as an interim measure only (more on that below) .The differential between passenger and car fares can and should be debated but Option 1 also imposes the least cost on the islanders overall. This is consistent with the view of many that Public Work’s fare targets are based on unreasonably high projected costs.

          What has always been most important to PLIC is not a particular type of fare schedule but that Islanders have the opportunity to contribute to a deliberate process that produces fair results. When the county fast-tracked their proposals the organization was put in the position of proposing interim alternatives quickly in order to allow time and fiscal ‘breathing room’ for new ideas and efforts to cut unnecessary costs.

          Councilman Weimer is, I believe, sincere, in his intent to revisit fare levels in a year but by that time much damage could be done to the community unless some mechanism (a task force, sunset clause, etc) compels an earlier reconsideration. As someone who has worked in a legislative body on transportation and revenue policy in a period of fiscal stress I know the strong inertia that favors the status quo in such instances. If all fare levels are interim then none really are and this large fare increase, without solid assurances it will be revisited, is a step too far in the wrong direction.

          No organization has a monopoly on good ideas and PLIC has embraced such ideas from within and outside of its broad-based membership. The organization has not criticized alternative proposals made in good faith in the interest of island unity and a healthy skepticism of undue certainty. Personally, I think the recent analyses by Nancy Ging, Fred Kinney, Rich Frye and Betsy Schneider all really stand out in terms of their thoughtfulness.

          • I did not say and did not mean to imply that a ferry advisory board ‘needs county buy-in’ or that it needs ‘some mainland expertise as well.’

            Repeating my key points, more clearly this time (I hope):

            1. We have a COUNTY ferry.
            2. County citizens (including islanders) and officials could benefit by a well-designed, carefully charged County Ferry Advisory Board of county residents, including no more than 50% islanders.

            There is no “Lummi Island ferry system.” There is only the Whatcom County Ferry System. That fact is not going to change unless islanders take over all ferry financing, operation, maintenance, planning, capital improvements, negotiations re: mainland docks etc. (I’m sure lots of folks in the county wish it were, including County officials.)

            If the PLIC Board or anyone else wants to set up its own island-only task force, fine with me. The research and conclusions of such groups could be submitted to the broader County Ferry Advisory Board for consideration, should one ever be set up.

          • Ok, I think I understand Wynne’s position now and sorry for any confusion or mischaracterization.

            There appear to be differences in framing, emphasis and duration between the two ideas. The PLIC board, as I understand it, does not, however, want an all-island task force but instead a joint effort that represents different interests in the county but in which island residents are well represented. It seems the intention is also for this to be a temporary body that can be set up quickly. Certainly the two bodies could co-exist.

  2. Carl’s proposal is the most rational plan offered to date–by far. As Islanders may recall, I initially supported Option 7–the 50% across the board rate increase–out of the 12 options PW proposed. I backed off from that position only because PLIC was asking for Option 1 to be considered an interim measure. Since Council didn’t support that idea and has continually rejected Option 1 as not raising enough money, I’m once again convinced that Option 7 is the best of the 12 for our community overall.

    Carl has tweaked Option 7 to make it more consistent with the historic trends provided by previous rate increases. He has also indicated he thinks the operating expenses are overstated. However, the political reality is that no one else on the Council seems willing to slow down enough to examine the costs Public Works has put forward.

    Therefore, I think Carl”s plan is clearly the best we can do within the current political reality of the County Council. For that reason I think we should back his plan vigorously and wholeheartedly, and be thankful for Carl taking the time to create a thoughtful compromise that attempts to address most of the concerns both Islanders and Councilmembers have expressed.

    • P.S. I also know that Carl has been paying attention to Rich Frye’s analyses of ferry operations and has been trying to develop creative strategies to increase ferry ridership during non-peak hours.

  3. I do not believe there is ANY fare structure that will pay all the costs the County keeps adding to the fare box. To keep trying to do so is futile and a little sadistic.

    What is required here is moderation of fares to realistic expectations, aggressive cost control, and financial oversight from an outside body.

    • I agree with Rich that the issue is the increased costs. The revenue target needs to be lowered. There is enough uncertainty about some assumed costs, doubt about the justifications for some expenses and evidence about the elasticity of ferry usage (fares go up, ridership goes down) to make this case.

      If the target was lowered, the projected savings could be used in Councilman Weimer’s framework to reduce the gap between pedestrian and care rates and to reduce the increase for trucks.

      In many other circumstances we should provide incentives for car alternatives but it is here putting downward pressure on revenue (as people switch to the cheaper alternative) and not necessarily leading to less vehicle use off the ferry. The original rationale for the increasing differential was to reduce peak-hour congestion, a problem I don’t believe is as bad as it once was. Peak pricing is a better solution to that problem anyways and parking fees would be another way to encourage carpooling and ease the upward pressure on fares. Multi-ride discounts allow regular users to economize and continue their use; retaining these is the great strength of the Weimer proposal.

      • Some people have also proposed an extended summer rate as an additional way to capture revenue; this could be a modest seasonal premium that reflects the increased demand to visit the island in the warmer seasons.

        • Last post, I promise – we should not allow the Council to eliminate the needs-based program. Time are tough and if the program needs to be reduced, so be it but lets do so humanely. A community can be judged on how well it treats it’s neediest.

          • I too agree with Rob that the needs-based program should be retained and not just abandoned due to some ill-defined “administrative costs.” If we lose this program our neighbors who are least able to support themselves (due to medical or disability concerns and unemployment, to note several real pressures) will pay a disproportionate price.

            Every program as people who abuse it. We can work to correct abuses of the needs-based system without punishing those who need and use it fairly. I want to be part of a community where we lend a hand to those of us who need it, at any given time. “There but for the grace” go we…and our ferry should serve all of us with dignity.

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