EVERETT - State officials say they expect a decade-long downward trend in ferry ridership in Western Washington to level off.
The Herald of Everett reports that between 1999 and 2009, ferry ridership dropped by about 3.6 million people — a decline of more than 15 percent. The State Department of Transportation website says it carries more than 23 million passengers annually.
Officials say that fare hikes, gasoline prices, service reductions and the recession have played a part in the drop in ridership.
The drop is slightly less when non-Puget Sound routes, Port Townsend-Keystone and Anacortes-San Juan Islands, are figured in.
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Ray Deardorf, planning director for the ferry system, says the state expects ridership to grow to 28.3 million in 2026, a forecast based on economic and population projections.
“We still see a drop in our frequent users. That may be offset by more ‘staycation’ type of travel” because of the recession, Deardorf said.
The ferry system has raised fares by 70 percent to 80 percent in the past 10 years, Deardorf said, because a large chunk of the ferry system’s budget was cut by the passage of the $30 car tab law. More than 20 percent of the ferry’s budget came from that tax. Fare increases were necessary to offset the cuts.
Additional costs have come from replacing four ferries that were more than 80 years old.
Along with higher gasoline prices and the recession, many factors have contributed to the decline.
“We had sort of a triple whammy” in 2008, Deardorf said.