What if? Considering fare & expense options

If you missed last Monday’s Ferry Task Force meeting (May 2, 2011), you will soon have the chance to learn more about what happened. Over the next week, more information will be distributed here and via other island communication sources about the May 2 meeting.

Last Monday’s Monday’s meeting  was important because it was the official start of Phase 2 of the Ferry Task Force’s work. (Their formal charge is to submit recommendations for possible changes to ferry fares and operations to the County Council by August 1, 2011.)

In Phase 2, the Task Force will develop and assess possible alternative changes to ferry fares (categories; prices) and ferry operations that will help enable revenues from user fares to more consistently pay for the (County ordinance-required) 55% of operating costs while meeting community transit needs. 

A crucial part of Phase 2 will be the very careful evaluation of the pros and cons of various options that are suggested by members of the Task Force and community. Careful evaluation of pros and cons should reduce the odds that final recommended changes could have unintended undesirable consequences (financial or for the community). 

The more of us who participate in Phase 2 — learning about various options, weighing pros and cons and sharing our ideas with each other and the task force — the more appropriate the final recommendations should be.

Throughout Phase 2, the Ferry Forum along with Brown Betty, PLIC and the Island Library will make available information and documents to help us all better understand what the Task Force is doing and provide informed input and feedback about various options.

One thought on “What if? Considering fare & expense options

  1. I am impressed and grateful to members of the Task Force for the hours they have put in and the materials they have generated for the community.
    Having looked over the accounting info posted by Patricia and Chandler, I find several questions arising for me that may have been addressed but I am not readily finding the answers.

    First, I read the accounting review to say that County ferry accounting is in line with current “best practices,” and from one perspective that may be a good thing. However, given that these practices have evolved over time, and have had the effect of allocating a lot more costs to ferry operations in the last few years, the obvious effect has been to keep raising the bar for the 55% fare box recovery target. Yet the goal of recovering 55% of those costs from fares has not changed. That still sounds like “bait and switch” to me, and I feel strongly that the 55% target should be on the table as a variable in the larger fare discussion. That shift would add another very useful dimension to Chandler’s fare scenario outline.

    Similarly, I would like to see the effect of various special taxing district scenarios on fare box requirements, including not only Lummi Island property owners, but all County residents who benefit from having predictable and affordable access to Lummi Island, such as hikers, bikers, friends, relatives, customers, and vendors, as well as County residents who might want to come to the island at some point in the future at reasonable cost (“option value”). To be sure, we on the Island benefit most from the ferry, but the larger community benefits as well, possibly to the extent of a few cents per $1000 of property value— it all adds up.

    We should keep in mind that there is a larger economic question involved here than finding enough revenue to cover costs. The ferry is an essential part of the County’s transportation system; there is no “Lummi Island Ferry;” there is only a Whatcom County ferry that links the economic, social, and political interests of the Island and the mainland. We’re all in this together.

    Let’s be clear: benefits are not measured by revenue, but by the numbers of people and vehicles carried. Every price increase, even if it raises revenue a bit, inevitably has the effect of actually decreasing overall benefits from ferry operations.

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