Local forum scheduled on North Ferry rate hike

Shelter Islanders will have a chance to comment on North Ferry’s application to the County Legislature for a rate increase at a special forum to be hosted by the town’s Ferry Advisory Committee at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 28 in the Town Hall board room, Supervisor Jim Dougherty announced Monday after a meeting of the committee in Town Hall that morning.
He noted the forum is not a formal public hearing on the rate hike. That’s being held by the Suffolk County Legislature, which alone has authority to set rates for ferries operating entirely within county limits. Its hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 2 at the W.H. Rogers Legislative Building at 725 Veterans Memorial Highway in Smithtown.
Mr. Dougherty said that County Legislator Ed Romaine planned to call for a recess of that hearing so that it can be continued at the Legislature’s next meeting, which will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16 in Riverhead, an easier trip for any Shelter Islanders who want to make comments.
The legislature’s Budget Review Office recently made a recommendation to the legislature that it grant North Ferry’s rate request, which calls for an increase in revenues of $410,154, according to the company, up 7.8 percent from last year’s revenues of $5,229,709. Most of that additional revenue, more than $275,000, would come from non-discounted fares.
The proposed 18.2-percent increase in the rate for resident 5-day commuter passes, from $22 to $26, is a “sticking point,” Supervisor Dougherty said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. At the meeting of the town’s Ferry Advisory Committee that took place in Town Hall Monday morning, he said, he had asked the North Ferry Company’s Bridg Hunt and Julie Ben-Susan to consider lowering the increase to $24.
“They said they couldn’t do it,” he said, asserting that finances were too tight. “But the fat lady hasn’t sung yet,” Mr. Dougherty added.
He said that North Ferry depreciates its boats over only 10 years, which by itself can turn the company’s bottom line into a loss. The boats should last a long time, the supervisor said, implying that a realistic depreciation schedule might show numbers indicating the company has not been losing money, as it has claimed.
The supervisor added he hoped to receive from the county’s Budget Review Office a North Ferry Company 2010 earning statement as well as an explanation of the figure $7.16 cited as the company’s actual average cost for each vehicle it carries. The company has declined to open its books to the town directly, the supervisor has said.
Mr. Dougherty said he had asked County Legislator Ed Romaine to help him get the figures the company had submitted to the Budget Review Office. “I’d feel more comfortable if we get our heads inside the tent and see more of the numbers,” he said at the work session.
North Ferry filed the rate request with the legislature on May 16, seeking to raise revenues 7.8 percent, saying its cost kept rising even as ridership was down and that it had been operating in the red.
For Island residents, the price of a book of 10 round-trip tickets would rise from $48 to $52, 8.3 percent, or 20 cents per trip. The price of a five-day round-trip pass would rise from $22 to $26, up 18.2 percent, or 40 cents a trip. That would be the same $2.60-a-trip rate proposed for a book of 10 resident round-trip tickets.
Six-day commuter passes would no longer be offered. Also under the proposal, the separate higher fare for SUVs would be eliminated, and the truck rate would apply to vehicles 22 feet long instead of 20. Modified vehicles — trucks and vans with extensions — would no longer qualify for discounted rates.
For non-residents, same day round-trip tickets would cost $15, up 15.3 percent from $13. The non-discounted one-way fare would go up $1 to $10, or 11 percent. They would pay $79 for a book of 10 round-trips, up 9.7 percent from $72, and $62 for a book of 10 one-way tickets, up 8 percent from $57.
No change is proposed in the rates for foot passengers, which are $1.50 for residents who buy them in the ferry office and $2 for others. The walk-on rate last went up in 2006 to $2 for everyone but, after a local outcry, the county reduced the fare for residents.
The proposed increases would not affect current bicycle rates of $5 per trip, or $3 per trip with a commuter discount.