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Why Is King County Stiffing The Taxpayers Over The West Seattle Water Taxi?

King County residents may remember that back in the fall of 2007 the  County Council approved a special property tax on all residents to support the creation of a Ferry District to fund the Vashon Island passenger ferry and year-round service for the West Seattle Water Taxi.

The Ferry District was sort of a pet project of King County Executive Dow Constantine when he sat on the Council. Constantine was so desperate to get the Ferry District off the ground that he allegedly pressured fellow Council members to vote for it by threatening to kill a separate tax aimed at funding flood control projects. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about killing taxes, but if I have to choose between a tax for foot ferries or a tax for flood control, I’m going with flood control.)

Now we learn from the Washington Policy Center that after having chosen to abandon its contract with Argosy Cruises and operate the West Seattle route directly, King County has managed to drive up costs nearly five times.

2009 (Argosy) op cost April-September: $692,814
2010 (King County) op cost April-September: $2,097,258

2009 (Argosy) ridership April-September: 189,302 trips
2010 (King County) ridership April-September: 138,706 trips

2009 (Argosy) cost per trip April-September: $3.66
2010 (King County) cost per trip April-September: $15.12*

*Note: Even with ridership at 2009 levels, the cost per trip for King County operations would still be $11.08.

A quick trip to the King County website tells us that the highest fare on the West Seattle route is $3.50, but many riders are likely paying less – sometimes much less.

Adults
$3.00 – ORCA fare
$3.50 – Cash or ticket fare

Seniors (65+) and persons with disabilities
$1.50 with a Regional Reduced Fare Permit. Fare applies to both cash and ORCA payment.

Youth (6-18)
$2.25 – ORCA Youth Card fare
$3.50 – Cash or ticket fare

Children (5 and under)
Free

So for the highest paying riders, residents in places like Enumclaw, Black Diamond, and Skykomish are footing the bill to a tune of $11.62 a pop. As opposed to $.16 if Argosy were still operating the route and charging the same fares.

I bring all this up just in case a run for the Governor’s mansion is in Dow Constantine’s future plans. At a time when our State is facing a budget crisis and with no guarantees that things will be much – if at all – improved by 2012, our Governor and State legislators need to be looking at all possible options to reduce costs. If Constantine pigheadedly insists on operating the Water Taxi at a per trip cost to the taxpayers more than 72 times the cost if the route were being operated privately, why would anyone expect him to take a hard look for services that might be privatized at the State level?

Cross posted at It’s Only Words.

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