Good to Go pass might become ticket for ferry


A Good to Go windshield sticker might someday get a car across the water by boat as well as by bridge.

An $8.7 billion transportation spending plan proposed Wednesday by a bipartisan group of state senators calls for Washington to come up with a plan for using prepaid toll passes for state ferry payments, reservations and customer service.

“We want to have one pass for everything,” Des Moines Sen. Tracey Eide told reporters while standing with fellow Democrat Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Republicans Curtis King of Yakima and Joe Fain of Auburn.

Frequent toll payers set up electronic Good to Go accounts and put transponders on their vehicles for cashless payments on the eastbound Tacoma Narrows bridge, the state Route 167 HOT lanes and the SR 520 bridge.

The Department of Transportation would study what it would take to add ferries to that list while maintaining a toll contract with Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp. The study would cost $250,000 from a ferry fund with results due to the Legislature Nov. 29.

Another study — funded by a $200,000 appropriation from legislators in 2011 — has already looked at ways of paying ferry fares and concluded Good to Go should expand to ferries.

Key lawmakers appear sold on the idea.

“We believe this will provide a less costly and more effective system for the payment of everybody that uses the system,” said King, who co-chairs the Senate Transportation Committee with Eide.

A series of problems plagued the Good to Go program in 2011 after ETCC took over tolling operations statewide. A backlog of potential toll violations was caused by hundreds of thousands of Narrows bridge crossings that were wrongfully processed as unpaid.

King said many of those problems have been corrected. He noted the proposed budget would spend $150,000 on a study of whether to outsource auditing of the Department of Transportation’s toll division to independent auditors.

The last study reported a state survey had found some support among Good to Go and ferry customers for combining the systems. Ferry riders already can use an ORCA card that also works on bus and train fares.

Though the proposed study is limited to ferries, state toll division director Craig Stone said he foresees Good to Go one day being used for all kinds of modes of transportation, with airport parking one likely option.

The budget proposal released Wednesday also calls for WSDOT to reduce toll administration and overhead, an action pushed by Sen. Nathan Schlicher, a Gig Harbor Democrat.

For example, it calls for a 20 percent reduction in Narrows Bridge administrative staff costs. Stone said those costs represent 1 percent of the bridge’s budget.

The spending plan also clears the way for increases in ferry fares and Narrows bridge tolls by restoring the state Transportation Commission’s power to set both rates. Last fall’s passage of Initiative 1185 reverted that authority to the Legislature.

The commission is poised to approve two 25-cent toll increases, one taking effect this summer and the other a year later.