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Senate wants plan for moving ferry fares onto Good to Go

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 3, 2013 at 11:13 am with No Comments »
April 3, 2013 1:37 pm

A transportation spending plan proposed today by a bipartisan group of senators calls for the Department of Transportation to come up with a plan for moving state ferries onto the Good to Go program.

Under Good to Go, frequent toll payers prepay into an account and slap an electronic sticker on their cars for cashless toll payments. The idea is to study what it would take to move ferry payments, reservations and customer service onto the existing toll contract with Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp.

The study would cost $250,000 from a ferry fund and would be due to the Legislature Nov. 29.

“This is a goal I think all of us up here really want to see happen statewide is, we want to have one pass for everything,” said Sen. Tracey Eide, a Des Moines Democrat and the co-chairwoman of the Transportation Commission, who presented the budget along with Republican co-chairman Curtis King of Yakima, Republican Joe Fain of Auburn and Democrat Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens.

“We believe this will provide a less costly and more effective system for the payment of everybody that uses the system,” King said.

A series of problems plagued the Good to Go program in 2011 after ETCC took over tolling operations statewide, including hundreds of thousands of paid Tacoma Narrows bridge crossings wrongfully processed as potential violations, creating a massive backlog at the customer service center.

But King said lawmakers “believe that a lot of the initial problems have been identified and somewhat corrected. Doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. Personally, I think it’s still too costly. But supposedly as we develop more and more areas that will be tolled, those costs will come down.”

The budget calls for WSDOT to reduce administration and overhead on tolling by $2.9 million, including by reducing staff and use of consultants.

Sen. Nathan Schlicher said in a news release he successfully pushed for that restriction. The Gig Harbor Democrat has complained about overhead costs on the Narrows bridge that by one estimate accounted for 4 percent of the tolled bridge’s total budget in 2012.

The plan would also spend $150,000 on a study of whether to outsource auditing of the agency’s toll division to independent auditors.

Here’s what the budget says:

(6)(a) $250,000 of the Puget Sound ferry operations account–state appropriation is provided solely for the development of a plan to integrate and transition customer service, reservation, and payment systems currently provided by the marine division to ferry users into the statewide tolling customer service center.

(b)(i)  The department shall develop a plan that addresses:

(A) A phased implementation approach, beginning with “Good To Go” as a payment option for ferry users;

(B) The feasibility, schedule, and cost of creating a single account-based system for toll road and ferry users;

(C) Transitioning customer service currently provided by the marine division to the statewide tolling customer service center; and

(D) Transitioning existing and planned ferry reservation system support from the marine division to the statewide tolling customer service center.

(ii) The plan must be provided to the office of financial management and the transportation committees of the legislature by November 29, 2013.

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