Proposal claims slower ferries could save the state millions

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Lawmakers in Olympia want to raise the gas tax by a dime, but the people who keep the state ferries running say they have an idea that could save millions.

The problem, they say, is that nobody is listening to them.

It takes millions of dollars to keep the state ferry system operating. For years, it's run in the red, with the state having to rob Peter to pay Paul.

"Looking down the road the next 12 years, you're going to have some some revenue or you're going to have to have some cuts in ferry service," said Rep. Judy Clibborn.

Clibborn said that revenue will likely have to come from the pockets of taxpayers in the form of a new 10 cent gas tax hike.

But there's another proposal that proponents say could save the system millions of dollars. It comes from Captains and Mates, who drive the ferries. They claim slower speeds would cut fuel consumption and save the state $6 million a year.

"There's always a trade, of course, and the tradeoff of slower vessels is less sailings. And those service reductions I think would be troublesome," said David Moseley, head of Washington State Ferries.

Moseley said the proposal would cut three runs each way, every day between Bainbridge Island and Seattle. Moseley said he's already told ferry captains to slow down when they can.

"We do that now in strategic times when we've got the time in the middle of the day, late evening, and those kinds of things," he said.

On the Edmonds-Kingston route, state officials say the boats do run slower, which saves $700,000 a year.

The the Captains and Mates proposal claims the savings could be $2 million per year, per boat under their plan.

Moseley said the priority is keeping a schedule, but the priority for lawmakers is to find the money to pay for ferries and other transportation needs. And that may mean raising taxes at the pump.

The state House and Senate both passed their own transportation budget proposals last week, and now they have to hammer out the differences.