On Tuesday, Aug 6, 2013, the County Council will introduce an ordinance to start charging a flat penalty ($30) for those with inadequate funds to pay for passage on the ferry. (full Whatcom County Agenda here.)
Introduction Item #3. Ordinance amending Whatcom County 2013 Unified Fee Schedule to incorporate “Ferry Non-Payment Fee” (AB2013-289) (proposed schedule – September 10 Public Works, Health, and Safety Committee and Council public hearing)
My view on a flat penalty: Some kind of penalty is appropriate, I think, as well as inevitable given the state auditor’s concerns. However, I think a flat fee is outrageously unfair since it would be applied flatly to all fare classes, from passengers/pedestrians ($7 cash fare – penalty more than 4 times the fare) to the largest truck ($130 cash fare, penalty less than 1/4 the fare). This inequity is unacceptable to me. Once again it appears that the County is considering endorsing (as they did with the flat $3 surcharge on all fares) a form of social engineering that discriminates financially in favor of those paying larger fares, and against those paying bread-and-butter passenger and car/driver fares.
A flat fee may be ‘simple & easy’ for the Council and Public Works, but it’s starkly unfair for average citizens and ferry users. Public Works could make up ‘penalty’ booklets for the crew to use that have proportional penalties, by fare. If they complain that a ‘proportional penalty booklet’ would be ‘too much work’ and will ‘cost too much’, I say let ’em move into the 21st century payment technology. Like, you know, the Girl Scouts do with their cookie sales?
What you can do, if this matters to you. The Public Hearing and likely Council vote are currently scheduled to take place on Sept. 10, during dry dock — a terribly inconvenient time for islanders or other ferry users to give testimony at the evening County Council meeting. I don’t know if PLIC or LIFAC have weighed in yet on this proposal or even know about it. Minimally I think we should ask the Council to reschedule the public hearing and vote until October, after dry dock is over. Better yet, I think they should send this back to committee to revise so that the penalty is proportional to the fare. But they won’t do that without public input, which is up to us.