Penalty $$ for Inadequate Funds for Ferry Passage

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.

10 thoughts on “Penalty $$ for Inadequate Funds for Ferry Passage

  1. Way back in the 50’s Kurt Vonnegut warned us all about this sort of thing, wherein the engineers and managers sit around coming up with more and more arcane adjustments to modify the impenetrable forest of nonsensical rules they have already imposed, because under some unlikely but conceivable scenario, such a rule might someday save perfectly intelligent and people from having to adapt creatively to a new situation. Let’s see…is there an emoticon for “rolling eyes”…?

  2. Thanks for the “head’s up” on this ordinance. It just came out to the County Council on July 30th – I bet THEY don’t even know about it yet. LOL
    What they want to do is issue a TICKET, like we get for parking too long, etc. It doesn’t seem like a real necessity though. I wonder how many people come on the ferry and aren’t able to pay?
    I am on the PLIC board and will bring this up to the members ASAP.

    • Bet you’re right about the CC not really knowing this is coming up, or at least the details – even if it ‘went through committee.’

      I think there is least a rough estimate of those who can’t-pay-right-now. “Someone” could ask Public Works for objective information. Thanks for stepping up & bringing this to the PLIC Board. Please keep everyone apprised of what you learn.

      The Ferry Forum now has the capacity to do very simple-minded polls, in case you’d like to ask islanders what options they might prefer, or if they’d like deferral of the public hearing & vote until post dry-dock. I’d be happy to work with someone to craft the questions. Or maybe someone more skilled than I in survey work will step forward to help? A link could be posted on ND & FB, as well.

      • To get around the problem of the meeting being during drydock of the ferry another idea would be to facilitate people getting to the meeting with a van to take them. This is something I will approach the PLIC board about (they have some money, I think.) and the LIFAC may be able to get some more details about the perceived need for the $30 penalty ticket. Good investigating, Wynne.

        • I don’t see why the CC can’t just reschedule the public hearing — the Council agenda reschedules stuff all the time, adding and subtracting various agenda items as late as a few hours before their meeting. I think it would be respectful toward us, their constituents, to defer the hearing until after dry dock. Why force islanders to make special arrangements to attend a poorly scheduled hearing, when it’s presumably arbitrary timing anyway? Nothing in the notice or draft ordinance indicated that this is in the ‘time is of the essence’ category.

          • Yes, deferring the public meeting which is about the Ferry, would be respectful of us. BUT, I’m not sure they really feel that way about us. It is certainly an approach we can take though. If they do pass this Ordinance, I don’t think it said when it would take effect? Probably after the first of the year. Or when the Fiscal year starts for the County. There are still some “details” we need if we are going to try to dissuade them from the Penalty Ticket. And, your point about attendance is important too. These public meetings are not well attended anyway. I can’t see why it would make any difference to them though – unless they purposely picked this time to IRRITATE us!

          • Don’t need to speculate that the CC is ‘trying’ anything. As you said in your first post, they probably barely — if at all — know this is on their agenda, or have read, never mind thought through the realities & consequences, of the proposed ordinance.

  3. Seems to me this is unnecessary and will potentially produce some very angry Islanders. I know I have on any number of occasions left my punch card in the “other car” and I frequently do not carry cash. So, I just “owe a punch” and have my card punched twice the next time I ride. Under the new rule, would I be fined $30? I think a better approach to this “problem” would be to rely on honesty. If someone is unable to pay, tell them what they owe and give them a “pay envelope” so they can mail payment to the County.

  4. Of course, the “honor” system is what has been, unofficially, in use for years. What must be kept in mind about this proposed fine is that it is in part motivated by the State of Washington’s Auditors Office and their regulations as to acceptable accounting and payment methods. With all due respect to the previous comment concerning the absurdity of infinitely extended regulation, in this case our County government appears to be inclined to respond to this challenge by the State. Unlike other issues of contention between the County and State hundreds of thousands of dollars will not be spent in an attempt to avoid the State’s requirement that people may not ride the ferry on “their honor.”

    I agree that there may well be an inherent inequity in fining a person walking on the ferry the same amount as dunning a 50,000 lb vehicle and passenger(s) without payment but I think that it would be instructive to know what it is that the County and State think they are doing by instituting the fine in the first place. Is the fine simply a “penalty” that is aimed at changing people’s behavior or is it an extra charge that the County needs to recover for giving a free ferry ride? I assume that what will in fact be charged for lack of acceptable funds will be the fare plus the fine. If this is the case and the fine is punitive in nature, then there might be some argument for having a single amount of fine.

    One thing that I think is absolutely necessary if any fine is to be instituted is that there be posted very explicit and obvious signage that informs ferry users of what options for fare payment exist and those that are not available along with what the additional penalty will be for nonpayment.

    • So, essentially the adoption of this penalty provision provides the option of substituting the penalty fee for any larger fee that might be due. Rate structures put into place to modify behavior can bite the hand that points the finger. These attitudes stem from those who are settling into operating a monopoly. What is the size of the problem and what happened to plain fairness. How about a small “IOU” form that would allow someone the chance to cover the charge within 72 hours along with a handling fee. Enough of a disincentive? Any body think of providing an ATM machine? Lets keep things in balance.

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