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North Ferry rate hike likely by Thursday

North Ferry could implement its new rate schedule by Thursday, July 8,  according to Stella Lagudis, general manager of the Heights Property Owners Corporation, which owns the ferry service.

The Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously to grant requested raises in fares.

The rate change was introduced in April and went through the full Suffolk County Legislative Review and public hearings before getting a recommendation from the Budget Review Office endorsing the request followed by a vote of 18-0 by the legislators on June 22.

North Ferry had been losing money even before the pandemic, with costs rising at a faster pace than revenues could cover, General Manager Bridg Hunt told legislators and residents in May. The company pays an annual dividend to the Heights Property Owners Corporation stockholders, but had to suspend those payments, which in 2019 and 2020 amounted to $227,288.

Any chance of a turnaround in 2020 died with the onset of the pandemic that sharply affected ridership. Discounted tickets sold to residents had always been subsidized by those paying full fares. But with the pandemic, truck traffic was reduced and many newcomers and second homeowners had moved to the Island, reducing fares that enabled the discounts.

Mr. Hunt said 58% of ferry use was paid for by discounted fares. Add to that major investments in infrastructure, including one new boat, repairs to the existing fleet and changes to ramps necessitated by rising sea levels, and the company was forced to seek more revenue, Mr. Hunt had explained.

The new fares are a $1 increase each way for the discounted tickets and $2 each way for those paying full fare. To try to lessen the hit locals would experience, the company called for two passengers in a vehicle paying fares instead of three.

Another issue — particularly for seniors on tight budgets and others economically strapped — was how to bear another added expense. Mr. Hunt identified three Island charities that could assist those in need with tickets paid for through an annual endowment North Ferry will fund.

Other increases include weekly commuter ticket fees for cars and driver:

• Resident vehicles for five-day round trips from $29 to $39.

• Nonresident commuter vehicles for five-day round trips from $36 to $46.

• Nonresident vehicles for six-day commuter tickets from $42 to $52.

Prepaid ticket discount books for 10 round trip cars and driver:

• Residents from $58 to $78.

• Greenport Village residents from $72 to $92.

• Nonresident books from $86 to $106.

Those paying single round trip fares without discounts have been spending $18, which rises to $22.

Some fares remain the same, including walk-ons or passengers in vehicles, with the only change that only two passengers will be charged the $2 fare each way instead of three; motorcycle round trips at $10; bicycle round trips $6 or, for a five day commuter, $4 per day.

All rates, including those for trucks and boat trailers are listed on the North Ferry website.

Mr. Hunt has outlined an expected rise in operating costs, noting that, while revenues are declining, insurance, fuel and debt service, slip maintenance and repairs are all anticipated to rise significantly.