Why are Guemes Ferry Fares Lower than Lummi Island Ferry Fares?

Today Skagit County published their draft 2015 income/expense report and fare proposal for the Guemes Ferry system. It includes data that their fares are lower than for the Lummi Island ferry, although operating expenses are very similar. The report reveals why. The Skagit and Whatcom ferry systems have very similar total annual expenses, both ~$2.5 million. That’s true even though the Guemes Ferry is decades newer than the Whatcom Chief, Guemes ferry hours of operation are much shorter (6:30 AM to 8:0 PM Mon – Thurs, to 11:00 Fri and Sat, and 8AM to 10 PM Sunday), and Skagit County does not pay a $200,000+ annual lease fee to the Lummi Nation for the mainland docking lease. So why, despite having similar operating expenses, does the Guemes ferry have lower fares than Lummi Island? The difference lies inSkagit County property taxpayers much more heavily subsidizing the Guemes ferry system (~65% operating expenses) than do Whatcom County taxpayers (45% operating expenses). How ‘good’ or ‘bad’ one judges Skagit County’s higher subsidy and lower fares probably depends heavily on two things:

  • if one uses the ferry a lot, and
  • what one thinks is a ‘reasonable’ subsidy by road fund property taxes, the majority doubtless paid by those who never or rarely use the ferry.

4 thoughts on “Why are Guemes Ferry Fares Lower than Lummi Island Ferry Fares?

  1. It would be interesting to see the ‘Total Bridge Costs’ for all of Whatcom County. Then, divide that by the number of registered vehicles to obtain an ‘Average Bridge Cost (subsidy) per vehicle’.
    Now compare that to the average cost for Whatcom Chief divided by our registered vehicles.
    One could make the case that the difference in net subsidy is why we are paying 55% of the ferry cost.
    Q. If I build a sub-division on top of a mountain, with no roads, but only a tram lift, should the county pay for the tram, a portion of it, or none of it.

  2. What portion of the WTA operating expenses are paid at the fare box? You can bet it is a hell of a lot less than 55%.

    • Interesting question, Jeff. A related question: What income sources does WTA have that the ferry system does not? They are a separate (not County government) entity, with separate finances. Without having the entire financial picture, I find it hard to make useful comparisons.

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