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Washington Ferries will drop bicycle fee for ORCA and pass users

In a very welcome step forward, Washington State Ferries will drop the fee currently assessed to people using passes and ORCA cards for most ferry routes. The change will go into effect with other fare changes in October.

The current $1 surcharge will still apply for tickets purchased on the spot and for most users going to the San Juan Islands.

From Biking Bis:

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The ferry commission voted this month to remove add-on charges for bicycles for passengers who use monthly passes, multi-ride cards, or an ORCA ePurse.

In the San Juan Islands, only customers paying with a multi-ride card may travel without paying the bicycle surcharge.

Bicyclists will still have to pay the passenger fee for their departure location.

Bicycle travelers buying a single-trip fare will continue to pay the bicycle surcharge, which is $1 at most locations.

Before you start counting all your savings, the changes will come in conjunction with a 2.5 percent increase in fares for everyone.

However, the step is a great acknowledgement by WSF that they want to encourage bicycle use on ferries. Given that motor vehicle space on many ferries is beyond capacity while seats inside remain open, getting more people to bike instead drive makes a lot of sense and would help move more people more efficiently.

It is also yet one more incentive for people to adopt the ORCA card, which is good for transit efficiency all over the region. More ORCA use is one of the keys to keeping downtown transit flowing once the Ride Free Area in downtown Seattle is cut, according to Seattle Transit Blog. Maybe the ferry and RFA changes would be a good excuse to do another round of ORCA giveaways or some other promotion to help more people make the switch.

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17 responses to “Washington Ferries will drop bicycle fee for ORCA and pass users”

  1. If the ferries are beyond capacity for motor vehicles while seats are empty, wouldn’t it make more sense simply to raise fares for the motorists and let everyone else ride for less? Of course, that would not work on passenger only ferries. If we look at a 200lb person compared to an SUV at 5200 lb to carry that same person, the fare ratio would be about 26 to one. Relative to deck space, the differential would be at least as high. If the fares reflected that, I think you’d find shorter car lines to get on the ferries and there’d be a good business in longer term private parking lots. Seriously, should cyclists really be expected to subsidize the use of ferries by Hummer owners?

    1. You wanna know what it’s like when bicyclists are the mainstream majority?

      Conveniently, here’s a picture that I took last summer of the ferry price schedule for the ferry from Lauwersoog to Schiermonnikoog in Holland:


      I’ll translate a few lines for you non-Dutch speakers of the normal (non-summer) schedule:

      * Adult: EUR 11.35
      * Bicycle: EUR 7.00
      * Automobile: EUR 71.70

      So yeah, it’s about ten bucks to take your bike, and about a hundred bucks to take your car unless you live in the island (then you pay roughly half-price for everything.)

      Conveniently there are bikes for rent on the island so you don’t really need to bring your own anyway.

      Admittedly, this is a special tourist-oriented island for which you’re highly discouraged from bringing cars anyway. I could check the other waddeneilanden but I’m guessing it’s not super different.

  2. That is incentive for me to actually remember to put money on my Orca card for my bike, bus, ferry trips to Whidbey Island.

  3. merlin

    According to WSDOT, a 2.5% general fare increase effective Oct. 1 will be modified by several welcome changes. In addition to eliminating the bike surcharge for Orca and pass users, a restructuring of car vehicle size categories is taking place. A new category of small car has been created for cars under 14 feet, which will not see their fares increase. The disparity in fares between small and standard vehicles will gradually increase. Now a standard fare applies to vehicles up to 20 feet in length – so a smart car (just over 8 feet) pays the same as a 20-foot SUV while taking up way less than half the space.

    1. Fourteen feet, it turns out, is a pretty tiny length for a car! There’s a list of some examples here; it’s pretty much subcompact hatchbacks and a few odd roadsters. They say these cars make up 4% of new car sales, but I wonder how representative the sample is on the ferries…

      At any rate, based on this report’s statement that the 14′ limit was chosen specifically because not many vehicles are under it, I wonder if they’re actually going to be able to eke any operational savings out of it.

      1. Shari

        Well, grrrr. I just looked up the specs for my car (a mid-90’s sedan) and it’s 14.3 ft. Kind of wished I hadn’t looked it up now – that’s going to annoy me every time I have to pay the standard fare. So close!

      2. Eric

        Yea! My car is on the under-14′ list!

      3. Stan


        Pretty sure I can get that 14.3 ft car to be under 14 ft… bring it over and my truck and I will apply the modification free of charge!


  4. Doug Bostrom

    Not to be too facetious, but I wonder if ticket prices are assessed against the specified length of the car, or the actual length of the car presenting itself? An Inspector Clouseau-style parking job might shave off those 4″ that are the problem with Shari’s car. :)

    1. Shari

      Hey, good idea! Maybe I’ll lend it to my sister – she’s a terrible driver, and could easily take off a few inches.

  5. d waltpat

    what about all the families who can’t bike or the elderly visiting their relatives.

    why subsidize once again – bikes? when all the campers, families, etc. are the ones who really subsidize the ferry system.
    use the money more wisely. oh, wait – look who is the head of the ferry system!

    1. Doug Bostrom

      Fares account for seniors, folks with ADA challenges, etc. See this WSF page :
      ADA & Medical Travel

    2. Stan

      It’s the entitlement mentality of cyclists in general and liberal local politicians in particular. They are also entitled to riding anywhere they choose, no matter how negatively it impacts the free flow of traffic for most other people.

      1. Jeff

        Give it a rest, for crying out loud! Bicycles on ferries don’t negatively impact the free flow of traffic. Entitled to what? Pay $1 less? It’s a decision WSF made, not something asked for by the cyclists, and was done to encourage more people to ride bikes onto the overcrowded ferries, since they don’t take up as much space.

        Your rant in the context of this article makes no sense,
        and reflects negatively on you and your idiotic knee jerk reaction. I bet you spout this same venom any time you hear the work “bicycle” regardless of whether it makes any sense at all.

      2. mike archambault

        If removing the bike surcharge resulted in fewer cars and shorter wait times for drivers, then would you be in favor of it?

    3. jpsfranks

      Who is subsidizing whom? An adult bike passenger pays about half what a vehicle and driver pays now, but takes up virtually no space and doesn’t prevent vehicles from boarding. The more non-vehicular passengers the better for the ferry system since you can transport a practically unlimited number of them at no additional cost.

  6. AJL

    Yes, because “most” people are in those pesky car-type-vehicles and those most certainly don’t jam up the streets do they? Oh, wait, I have to wait behind a line of cars almost every day heading along Western…on my bike. Yes, certainly, I am the one causing the problem.

    Hopefully the ORCA change will make it easier for a lot of people who are taking alternate transit options.

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