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South Ferry outlines rate increase plans

South Ferry CEO Cliff Clark (left) and Chief Operating Officer Nicholas Morehead outlined major aspects of the requested fare hike that will benefit Islanders at a meeting at Town Hall June 5.

With a recommendation from its Budget Review Office, the Suffolk County Legislature is expected to approve South Ferry’s requested rate hike on June 18. That was the announcement from South Ferry officials at a June 5 meeting at Town Hall called to answer questions from the public.

Except the public was nowhere to be seen.

Members of the South Ferry staff — President Cliff Clark, Chief Operating Officer Nicholas Morehead and Chief Financial Officer Tish Clark — were met by town officials. John Needham and Elizabeth Galle, who are members of the Shelter Island Ferry Committee were in attendance along with Supervisor Gary Gerth, Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams and Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. They were joined by Legislator Bridget Fleming’s legislative aide, Irene Donohue and Senior Legislative Analyst for the Budget Review Office (BRO) Craig Frese.

The reason the BRO is recommending passage of the rate changes is because the company has continued to make investments in improvements to equipment and infrastructure and has not had a raise in seven years, Mr. Frese said. The rate hike will help pay for a new boat and further infrastructure changes.

It would likely take a few days after the June 18 vote scheduled at 4 p.m. in Riverhead for paperwork to be processed, Ms. Donohue said. As soon as South Ferry gets notice that it can put the new rates into effect, Mr. Clark promised he would get the word out to Island residents.

It took only a few days after the Suffolk County Legislature vote on North Ferry’s rate hike for that company to implement its new fares, in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

The proposed South Ferry fares are skewed toward giving the best rates to Islanders and regular commuters, South Ferry officials said. Cash fares and truck fares are what provide company profits. The lower fares for Islanders and regular commuters are offered below cost, Mr. Clark said.

Despite the approval from the BRO, nothing is written in stone, he said, adding that he wanted to ensure there’s nothing in the proposed rates that is “onerous” to residents.

Mr. Morehead emphasized three changes he said would benefit regular commuters:
• Allowing four-wheeled vehicles less than 22 feet in length to pay what cars pay to benefit contractors.
• Residents and regular commuters would be paying the lowest rates.
• Passengers in vehicles where the driver can show a local address on a driver’s license will not be charged. Other passengers or walk-ons who have been paying $1 for a one-way ticket would be charged $2 and those who have been paying $2 for a round trip would be charged $3.

A full list of the proposed rate changes appears on South Ferry’s website.

Although residents weren’t in attendance, the two members of the Ferry Study Committee had questions for South Ferry officials.

Ms. Galle pointed out that, despite the efforts to keep fares lower for residents, they would see indirect increases passed along by suppliers, such as those delivering water for swimming pools, food, lumber, appliances and other items brought to the Island.

Mr. Morehead responded that by allowing tank trucks to carry up to 2,500 pounds instead of 2,000, and allowing four-wheeled trucks up to 22 feet to pay lower rates, that would offset some of the increases.

Mr. Needham asked how long South Ferry officials thought this pending raise would last before they would be back asking for another raise. Mr. Clark predicted there would likely be no raise until at least five years from now and perhaps longer.

And what happens if business slacks off? Mr. Needham asked.

That happened in 2007, 2008 and 2009, Mr. Clark said. While good service is critical, he said, if South Ferry encountered a major cut in ridership, it could have to run boats less often, which would result in longer waits.

The approximately hour-long session was recorded and will run on Channel 22 and be posted to the town website.