Nov 052010

Regarding the ferry, the rates have gone way up as some of us expected. And, we haven’t even heard yet what the schedule will be or started discussions about the parking lot. This is just the first of many impacts that Islanders are going to experience as the result of economic downturn and Peak Everything.

Government is now stalemated even more than it was during the first two years of Mr. Obama’s bi-partisanship program. There won’t be a lot of free money. County government is one vote more conservative and the conservatives on the Council are not sympathetic to Lummi Island. The rest of the county thinks Lummi Island living is a lifestyle choice. Anyone who owns a home on the island who wants to leave is stuck because there just aren’t many home buyers out there. The housing market hasn’t hit bottom yet.

A lot of time and effort went into lobbying for unrealistic notions about the ferry. What chance was there, really, to maintain the existing service at the existing price? The Council isn’t concerned with elasticity.  Although they understood it well enough to increase the pedestrian rate big time.  And now PLIC is, unfortunately, in the position of being a messenger of bad tidings.

Here’s the deal: to get ready for the future we can’t plan on getting in our car by ourselves and going where we want when we want. This is what James Kunstler refers to as “Happy Motoring.” We’ve operated that way for many years as a country. It’s over. We’re not out of gas but the supply will slowly dwindle as growing nations like China increase their demand. Some see it going as high as $20 a gallon.

Soon, Islanders will be carefully planning their trips to town because of the cost of ferry travel. At the same time everyone should consider the total cost.

The national reimbursement rate for auto usage is approximately $.50 per mile. It’s roughly 20 miles one way to B’Ham.  Add another 20 for errands and you’ve driven 60 miles for $30 dollars of depreciation (wear and tear on your car) and gas, plus $11.40 for the ferry (if you have a multi-ride ticket). So, essentially, a trip to town will cost $41.40. That’s the real cost starting January. Here’s what we don’t think about: the real cost today is $36. So, starting in January a trip to town is going to cost the solitary passenger car traveler $5 dollars more. And the per mile cost will increase as gasoline prices inevitably rise. The numbers may not be exact and will differ depending on type of auto, etc. But the point is, there is a fixed cost when traveling to town in addition to the ferry fee. And, it’s a greater cost than the ferry fee.

To me that 40 mile round trip and the price of gas necessary to make the trip is more problematic than being able to land at Gooseberry Point. The road distance to Bellingham isn’t going to get shorter. Gas prices are certain to go up.

In my imaginary, pie-in-the-sky-sustainable world I would prefer never to take a car off the island. Instead, I’d prefer to ride a passenger ferry directly into Fairhaven where I could link up with the existing transportation  network supplemented with  car share, cooperatively owned vehicles, rentals, taxis, shuttles and other transportation services or functions, avoiding the geographic obstacle of the Lummi Nation.

The private auto is about to become obsolete. It doesn’t make sense to me to lock into 50 years of trying to get from Gooseberry Point to Bellingham or Ferndale. We could see prices jump to European levels overnight and keep on rising.


  8 Responses to “Be Careful What You Wish For”

  1. Now here is the grand paradox. Islanders should get together and pool their rides and trips to the mainland, but if they do the smart thing, the number of ferry car trips will drop accordingly and then the government planners will complain that the ferry revenue has dropped and they must raise trip prices to compensate. To give another example, muncipalities strongly advocate water conservation, but when residents cut their water usage, the revenue drops too — ergo water rates have to rise to make up for lost income. One final insanity,
    California loads enormous taxes on tobacco to discourage its use. Then the taxes create the desired effect, voila, smokers have quit or are dead — how in hell can the state make up for all the lost revenue that they have built into their budget. We should have known all this years ago when governments began advocating and sponsoring Lotteries, a vice that largely exploits the poor. No wonder we see the pitch forks and torches heading for the voting booths. Happy Guy Fawkes Day

  2. Eonomic bubbles beget lifestyle bubbles. Ferry ridership was in a bubble. Now Islanders are waking up to the unsustainability of taking Johnny to soccer 5 times a week, Susie to violin lessons twice a week, kids in private schools, etc, etc….all on the Mainland. This is on top of shopping, work, recreation, etc. Dave is correct. Reduced use will result in a diminished schedule and rising fares. Now throw in future increases in the cost of fuel and all associated with those costs, and growing County/State deficits as far as the eye can see. There will be casualties. There will be attrition. Main Street gorged at the table that was set by Wall Street. Greed and Fear dictate the ebb and flow. Lummi Island has a chance at a positive solution, but the recognition/acknowledgment phase appears to take a long time. I hope Islanders start reading this blog, and some constructive dialogue can jump start the process….time will tell.

  3. Randy, How about a short series concerning a hypothetical island that chose to isolate itself within the transition movement. A little visionary pie in the sky mixed with hard reality. Wind turbines on Sunnyhill, no law enforcement, senior health care centers next to day cares, $12 a gallon gas, small scale community farming, lummi dollars, a passenger boat to Fairhaven that was weather dependent. etc, etc. Throw in the good, the bad and the ugly. Paint a picture…….

  4. Jim,
    You’ve smoked out my novel!

  5. Excellent post & comments. I suspect that if the county really wanted more fare-based income from ferry usage, they should lower rather than raise fares. But that would “look” weak and “pro-islander”, not popular in the County generally.

  6. You’ve correctly defined the problem, and hinted at some of the solutions. Now the hard part begins. Concrete steps to enact a series of transitional steps the community can embrace. I’m in.

  7. Think the ‘downward spiral’ is a fluke? I don’t. I think that the county figures that this (and future) increases in fares will drive down ferry usage, i.e., decrease use. When usage drops enough, the County executive and council can then argue for cuts in service. I can hear it now, “Ok – you don’ t want even higher fares? Fine. The only logical solution is fewer runs.” So, we’ll see cutbacks first to, maybe, two 8-hr shifts, then eventually one 10-hr shift.” More jobs lost etc, but so what. Oddly enough, this might help with Transitioning — perhaps car ferry service to Gooseberry for 10-12 hrs daily, plus commercial passenger ferry runs (to G’berry? Fairhaven?) maybe 3 times daily. Eventually get the county entirely out of the ferry business. I’m not being sarcastic or negative here. It just seems a likely path.

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