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Originally published Friday, December 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Passenger ferries, from futility to consultancy

Finally, a state task force looking at passenger-only ferry service is seeking outside help from a financial consultant. That's good news since...

Finally, a state task force looking at passenger-only ferry service is seeking outside help from a financial consultant. That's good news since a financial analysis was part of the task force's job in the first place.

The group is supposed to make a recommendation by Jan. 6, when the state Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee meets. But because task-force members were at an impasse with turf disagreements and were distrustful of each side's data, the joint committee last week authorized the hiring of an independent consultant.

Some estimates say the consultant might add about $10,000 to the project's existing cost of at least $20,000.

The task force, which includes state elected officials, commuters and representatives of private operators, local transit and labor, has been meeting since Aug. 29. The task force was intended to settle an argument between the state House committee, which tends to want Washington State Ferries to expand its passenger-only ferry service, and the Senate committee, which leans toward private-public partnerships.

In the mix are powerful unions, which have made some concessions to permit more flexibility if routes are state-operated, but worry private operators would not pay similar wages or benefits.

At recent meetings, the same rifts that stalled progress in the Legislature have surfaced among task-force members. But an independent consultant might well be able to settle some disagreements, if not for members themselves, then for policymakers.

Time is short. A thorough, if overdue, financial analysis of passenger-only ferry options might save the task force from being only an exercise in futility.

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