A "Transferable" Discover Pass?
Larrabee State Park, where WTA trail crews do year-round maintenance, depends on Discover Pass revenue. Photo by Mike.
A couple of months ago, we put out a survey asking what you thought about the newly-minted Washington state Discover Pass. More than 3,000 hikers responded. And while 68% of respondents support the Discover Pass, one thing about it really put a pebble in your boot.
In all, more than 87% of hikers do not think that one-pass-per-vehicle is a reasonable structure for the Discover Pass.
We understand the widespread annoyance by this aspect of the Discover Pass, and we're working hard with state land management agencies to correct that problem.
The agencies that manage the Discover Pass - the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and State Parks - plan to deliver a transferable pass in 2012. We don't anticipate much opposition at the state legislature in early 2012, because transferability was one of the main issues that legislators of both parties voiced as a concern in the lobby campaign for this legislation. But nothing happens without effort in Olympia, and we'll need to keep this issue in front of legislators given their eyes will be glued to the state budget deficit that could mount to $2 billion.
What does transferable mean? At a minimum, it means being able to put more than one license plate on a Discover Pass. Other options could include a two-license pass, plus the option to buy another pass at a discounted rate. Or perhaps a two-license pass, coupled with the option to purchase a more expensive universally transferable pass. Much of this will depend on administrative challenges and revenue impacts inherent in each proposal.
Why wasn't the Discover Pass transferable in the first place? From a public policy perspective, the agencies were concerned that making the pass transferable would cut into revenue, which they desperately needed to keep state lands open and hikeable. The state must balance the budget each year, which requires that they make actual cuts when revenues are down. (By contrast, the federal government can spend into the red.) Agencies were hopeful that people who use two or more vehicles to access state lands (say, a sedan for hiking and a truck for fishing) would purchase two full-priced Discover Passes.
Actual revenue says otherwise. The emerging assumption now is that more people will purchase a pass that can be used on more than one vehicle, even if it costs a little more money. From what I am hearing in my meetings with state agencies, they understand this and they want to fix it.
If you were one of the 3,074 people who took the time to take WTA's Discover Pass survey, I want to thank you for weighing in. We look forward to providing you opportunities to get engaged in the effort to improve the Discover Pass in the upcoming Washington state legislative session.