North Ferry rate hike includes plan to drop SUV surcharge

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | The North Ferry transports folks from Greenport to Shelter Island.

There’s no quick relief for Greenport residents in North Ferry’s pending request for rate increases. But SUV drivers would see a surcharge dropped from their ticket fees, general manager Bridge Hunt told the Village Board Tuesday night.

“We really don’t want to go up in our prices,” Mr. Hunt said at the public hearing called to give villagers a chance to comment on proposed rate hikes pending before the Suffolk County Legislature. A “dramatic” increase in operating costs coupled with a decline in ferry users has resulted in the company’s having to borrow $250,000 this year and a projected $500,000 next year, he said.

The ferry company’s cost of transporting a vehicle across the bay has risen from $6.01 to $7.16, Mr. Hunt said. If passed, the proposal before the legislature would result in a rise from $9 to $10 for a one-way driver and vehicle and from $13 to $15 for a round-trip fare. Those who purchase books of coupons would see a 50 cent increase on a one-way trip and a 40 cent increase on a round-trip, Mr. Hunt said. Five-day resident commuter passes for Shelter Island residents would cost $26, up from $22.

The number of Shelter Island residents receiving discount fares has increased, while the number of regular customers has declined, Mr. Hunt said.

As for the rollback on the SUV surcharge, the ferry official said the surcharge was “well-intentioned” and meant to hit drivers of larger vehicles, but the 20-foot length cutoff resulted in all SUV drivers paying the extra cost. The cutoff will be changed to 22 feet, Mr. Hunt said.

An impassioned plea from Greenport Trustee Chris Kempner to give villagers the same rates Shelter Island residents enjoy didn’t fall on deaf ears, but it’s not part of the package currently pending before the county Legislature, Mr. Hunt said.

The problem was establishing a cutoff point that wouldn’t result in having to lower rates for all North Fork residents, he said.

Pointing to the lower economic demographic among village residents, Ms. Kempner said because there aren’t many jobs in the village, many residents have to travel to the South Fork for work. They have to pay the full ticket price while the village is subsidizing the ferry company by maintaining local roads used by ferry traffic. Once drivers cut off state Route 25, they’re on village streets, Ms. Kempner said. Because there’s a clear line between state-supported roads and village-maintained streets, all villagers should be entitled to lower rates, she said.

It’s something Mr. Hunt promised to consider in the future but said it was too late to factor into the current proposal. North Ferry will offer reduced cost tickets to those who live in Greenport but work for Shelter Island businesses, he said.

Calling the ferry a “great attribute,” Ms. Kempner said the village subsidizes the service by providing parking and maintaining village streets used by ferry-bound traffic.

“No subsidy is provided by county, state or federal sources to improve these roads,” Ms. Kempner said. Taxes Greenport residents pay maintain the local roads, she said. Lower rates for Shelter Island residents are subsidized by “the casual traveler and commercial truck traffic,” according to a Suffolk County Budget Review Office report the trustee cited. Greenporters are treated as “casual travelers,” she said.

“In effect, village residents are subsidizing twice, through higher rates and through infrastructure improvements,” Ms. Kempner said. With approximately 2,000 village residents who would be eligible for the discount, she said there would be a limited impact on ferry revenues.

“Greenport per capita income is under $32,000, while Shelter Island is roughly 37 percent higher at $43,402,” Ms. Kempner said.

Mayor Nyce said he had made similar arguments in a letter he sent to county Legislators.

“Conceptually, I agree with you,” Mr. Hunt said. But it’s not something that will affect the current proposal, he said.

In response to a question from Trustee Mary Bess Phillips about providing more traffic relief on residential streets in Greenport affected by ferry traffic, Mr. Hunt promised better signage and said the company has already taken more responsibility for the area around the ferry loading area. He said the ferry company would look to do more about controlling traffic flow. North Ferry is cooperating with discussions between the village and the Metropolitan Transit Authority on ways to improve the traffic hub at the southern end of Third Street, Mr. Hunt said.

For those who do buy commuter books of ferry tickets that are generally sold in blocks of 10, Mr. Hunt said he’s willing to sell half books to those who are cash-strapped if they notify him.

The Suffolk County Legislature’s Budget Review Office has recommended the rate increase. County Legislator Ed Romaine has scheduled a hearing in Riverhead on the rate increase for Tuesday, Aug. 16.

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