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January 10, 2011

Opinion: It's time to look at privatizing ferries

DJC Publisher

Gov. Chris Gregoire has a tough job these days. Looking for new ways to fund higher education and the state ferry system are just two of the difficult choices she and the Legislature must make.

The governor has proposed giving state universities the authority to raise tuition and wants to create a Puget Sound ferry authority to run the nation's largest ferry system.

The governor is right to aim for long-term solutions.

“If you don't like my idea, I accept that, but what I don't accept is we walk out of here with another Band-Aid,'' Gov. Gregoire said at news conference on the ferry system.

Counties and state lawmakers are not enthusiastic about the ferry idea.

“I will tell you taxpayers I hear from say they don't want more taxes,” Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said in an Associated Press article, adding that she hopes state lawmakers seek alternatives before making a final decision.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House's transportation committee, said in the same article that it's going to be difficult to ask legislators from the counties with ferries to vote for a new tax on their constituents.

The state should issue a request for proposals from private firms to run the ferry system. Some fear this could lead to higher rates, and it may. But we in the Seattle area will soon be paying as much a $7 for a round trip across the 520 bridge.

The state's ferry system assets are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It is quite possible a private company would pay the state for the privilege of using the boats and terminals, and maybe the service would improve, too.

It's worth asking private firms what they could do for us.

Phil Brown can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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