Guemes Island Ferry

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Guemes Island Ferry

Ferry Operations Manager: Rachel Rowe

2023 Ferry Fare Proposal

Skagit County Public Works is proposing an increase to ferry rates in 2023. Skagit County has hired a Consultant, KPFF, to conduct a rate study. The objectives of the study are:

  • Reduce the road fund subsidy that contributes to the ferry operating deficit each year
  • Simplify the fare structure for future implementation of electronic ticketing
  • Use previous studies and stakeholder input to guide the process
  • Evaluate opportunities for additional and ancillary revenue
  • Recommend fare policies for existing operations while planning for ferry replacement

Please review the following information to learn more, and be sure to check this webpage often for updates throughout the process.


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Background on Ferry Fare Revenue Target Methodology

Beginning February 16, 2010, a 65% ‘ferry fare revenue target methodology’ was established for the Skagit County ferry system (with Resolution R20100050, amended by Resolution R20110382). Essentially, the methodology requires that 65% of the operational and maintenance costs for the ferry system be borne by the fare payers, motor vehicle fuel tax, and the WSDOT deficit reimbursement, and the remaining 35% be borne by Skagit County property taxes. The formula uses a 5-year average of the past 5 years to calculate the revenue target.

The resolutions mandate that Public Works prepare and submit a report to the Board that calculates the County’s ferry fare revenue target pursuant to the formula, and recommend a ferry rate schedule for the upcoming calendar year with an estimate of fares based off those rates.

The 2022 Revenue Target Report was presented to the Board of County Commissioners on June 21, 2022. The 2022 Ferry Fare Revenue Target is $1,463,031. Farebox revenue for 2022 is projected at $1,210,000.

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History of Farebox Revenue

The Farebox Revenue Target is set annually in the Ferry Fare Revenue Target Report. Since 2018, farebox revenue has not met the revenue target.

Revenue Target Variance
  2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Revenue Target $ 1,144,694 $ 1,282,491 $ 1,302,372 $ 1,386,935 $ 1,300,624
Farebox Revenue $ 1,160,205 $1,232,411 $ 1,172,643 $ 1,090,088 $ 1,115,037
Variance $ 15,511 $ (50,080) $ (129,729) $ (296,847) $ (185,587)

Farebox revenue is not projected to meet the 2022 revenue target without a fare increase.

Like many businesses, organizations, and government entities did during the pandemic, Skagit County pressed the ‘pause’ button on making any increases or substantial changes to the fare system in hopes that operational costs and ridership patterns would stabilize after COVID mandates were lifted. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Waiting any longer will result in larger fare increases and potential cuts to service levels.

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Changes in Ridership Patterns & Revenue

A review of ridership data shows that the ferry system experienced peak ridership and farebox revenue in 2018.

Ridership 2017-2021
  2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Vehicles 179,642 196,383 179,301 183,852 179,983
Passengers 368,212 410,177 405,887 332,360 379,092

The decline in passenger ridership in 2020 was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farebox Revenue 2017-2021
  2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Revenue $ 1,160,205 $ 1,232,411 $ 1,172,643 $ 1,090,088 $ 1,115,037

In 2017 and 2019, there was a haul-out, resulting in less farebox revenue in each of those years. In 2020, the drop in farebox revenue was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the road fund subsidy has averaged $1M over the last 5 years, which is more than 35% as currently mandated by resolution.

Operational expenses have also steadily increased. Inflation has affected expenses such as fuel costs, wages, maintenance fees, and contracted services. 


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Proposed Action

Skagit County has hired a consulting team to develop a recommended rate schedule along with a recommendation for fare policy and financial planning. Skagit County seeks to implement electronic fare collection by the end of 2023. Recommendations of the study should consider and prioritize the future of fare collection.

Evaluation of the rate structure will include:

  • Fare options, including needs-based/senior/disabled discount, oversize vehicles/trailers, smaller vehicles, peak/non-peak, and reduction of number of fare types.
  • Ratio of vehicle fares to walk-on fares, with consideration given to encourage alternatives to drive-alone trips, limited parking, and impacts to system revenue.
  • Recommended rates for youth fares, school district and students, HAZMAT runs, after-hours runs, bicycles, and traffic impact fees.
  • Evaluation of fare payment strategies to encourage use of online sales and multi-use punch cards, including streamlined discounts for multi-ride rates, commercial accounts, and credit card processing fees.
  • Review other revenue sources, including a pricing strategy for parking.
  • Throughput analysis and recommendations for additional scheduled runs to increase revenue.
  • Evaluation of operating cost per run compared to average revenue per run.
  • Review of future fare policies including strategies for future fare changes.

The Board of Skagit County Commissioners (Board) will ultimately decide what the new rate structure will be. The Board has the authority to adopt fares and fare policy for the ferry system.


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Timeline of 2023 Ferry Fare Increase

Please click here to view the Guemes Island Ferry Rate Study Estimated Project Schedule (last updated 1/6/2023)

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Ferry Operations Reports

GUEMES ISLAND FERRY DOCUMENT AND REPORT ARCHIVE
Click the link above to access all relevant ridership, ticket sales, revenue reports.

Guemes Island Ferry Operations and Service Study



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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do fares need to be increased?

Simply put, we need to increase fares in order to maintain our current level of service and reduce the financial impact to the County's Road Fund. Skagit County Public Works is proposing to increase ferry fare rates in the spring of 2023. This proposal represents the first substantial increase in fares for operational costs since 2015. A vessel replacement surcharge was implemented in 2018; however, revenue from that surcharge can only be used to fund vessel replacement.  

What makes up the ‘operating costs for the ferry system?

“Operating cost” means all actual daily running expenses (which include fuel & wages), and all actual regular & routine maintenance and administrative expenses associated with the use and operation of all physical elements of the ferry system.

What other revenues fund the ferry service besides user fares?

Operating funds are generated through fares, state subsidies, and the Public Works Road Fund. No capital expenses are currently funded through or included in operations. Capital expenditures are paid by the Public Works Road Fund and grants. 

What is the process for increasing ferry fares?

Skagit County Public Works will work with stakeholders and the consultants to bring a fare proposal before the Board. To pass a resolution to increase fares, a draft resolution will be sent from Public Works to the Board. Following a public hearing, the resolution will be placed on the Board’s agenda for approval.

What date will the fare increases take effect?

It is anticipated that the fare increase would take effect in spring 2023, subject to Skagit County Board approval.  

Will there be any reduction in ferry service?

Our fare proposal is designed such that with ridership similar to 2022, we can recover enough farebox revenue without service reductions. If the increase does not pass, a service reduction is one of the tools we may use to balance operating costs. 

Will there still be multi-ride/punch card discounts?

Yes, there will still be multi-ride punch card discounts though the discount structure may change.

Will there be needs-based fares in the new rate structure?

Skagit County has asked the Consultant to evaluate a needs-based discount.

Are you increasing fares to fund the new ferry?

No, this fare increase is not funding the new ferry. This fare increase is to fund the current operating costs of the Skagit County ferry system.

Will I still have to pay the vessel replacement surcharge?

The vessel replacement surcharge in Resolution R20180123, approved by the Board on June 18, 2018, is expected to remain in place. Part of the scope of work for the consultants is to figure out if the amount is appropriate in planning for future vessel replacement. This money can be used exclusively toward the purchase of a new ferry.

What happens when the new ferry enters service and has reduced operating expenditures?

Early analysis concluded the new ferry would see a reduction in non-salary operating costs. However, as we work to further refine the future of ferry service, that reduction is not something we can count on any longer. The cost of goods and services has increase exponentially since that analysis. The new electric vessel will not need as much diesel fuel to operate, but the county will need to plan for battery replacements every 10 years or so.

How do I keep up with ongoing discussions about ferry operations?

Please sign up for Guemes Island Ferry email alerts by clicking here or by entering in your email at the top of this page. Subscribing to email alerts is the best way to receive up-to-date information about the 2023 ferry rate study process and to stay informed about any upcoming public presentations, open houses, or public hearings.

Upcoming meetings:

  • Public Hearing: Tuesday, February 28th, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. | Commissioners' Hearing Room, 1800 Continental Pl, Mount Vernon, WA
    Attend in-person or via Zoom using the following link: https://bit.ly/SkagitBoCCMtg

Past meetings:

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Submit a Comment

We welcome your feedback! Please submit comments to: ferrycomments@co.skagit.wa.us. Thank you!