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North Ferry official makes case for rate hikes: Decision to be made by the County Legislature

For the third time in four years, North Ferry is seeking a rate increase. The last request was in 2021, and on Tuesday, ferry officials went before the Town Board and outlined the latest request.

It’s not up to the Town Board to turn thumbs up or down on ferry rates; that’s the prerogative of the Suffolk County Legislature, which rules on transportation issues.

There has already been one meeting with the Legislature’s Budget Review Office (BRO) and a second hearing is slated for May 2. There could be other sessions before the BRO makes a recommendation to the full County Legislature for a vote.

Ferry officials released its rate increase proposal on Tuesday.

• The one rate that would remain in effect is the $1.50 price for passengers who are Shelter Island residents.

• Most other Island resident fees would increase by 7.7  to 7.8%, with residents paying $6.90 for a one-way vehicle fare, up from $6.40. A resident round trip would cost $8.40, up from $7.80.

• Resident commuters purchasing a five-day fare would pay $42, up by $3.

• Non-resident discount rates would be $2.50 instead of $2 for passengers; $8.50, up from $7.90,for a one way trip; and $11.40, up from $10.60 for a round trip.

• Cash prices for passengers in vehicles would increase from $2 to $3.

• Other cash customers would pay $15 for a one way fare, up from $14, and round trip fares would rise from $22 to $24.

• A five-day commuter fee would be $49 a week, up from $46; and a six-day commuter fare would rise from $52 to $56.

• Discount 10-round trip books are already being eliminated, according to Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis. The corporation owns North Ferry.

“The FerryPass system is meant to be ‘touchless,’” Ms. Lagudis said. It was always planned to do away with paper tickets, she said. But that has no relation to the fare increases on which the County Legislature would act, Ms. Lagudis said.

According to North Ferry General Manager Bridg Hunt, without the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program (PPP) the ferry service might have ceased operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PPP money came in two batches that “saved our bacon,” Mr. Hunt said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

Without PPP, the company “would have folded,” he said “We were going to run the business and keep the service going until we couldn’t.”

Instead, North Ferry managed to net $370,000 after many of its expenses were covered with federal money. But there were still other costs, including payments due on boats, so at the end of the day, the company was “going backwards,” he said. “It’s not a good business model when you’re investing more in your company than you’re taking home.”

Among investments that had to be made from funds in company reserves were $370,000 to raise and lengthen one ramp on the Greenport side last spring and a more expensive cost to do one ramp on the Shelter Island side, both due to rising sea levels.

There was another $200,000 for other slip work. Looking ahead, there are two more ramps — in Greenport and Shelter Island — that will have to be raised and lengthened to deal with higher tides.

In 2008 in the midst of a recession, Mr. Hunt said he thought it was a struggle for the company, but that was “a cake walk” compared with the difficulties resulting from the pandemic. Those who traveled in ordinary times were not using the service and without their payments, which have offset discounts given to Shelter Island residents, there was little traffic.

This year, Mr. Hunt has been looking at rising costs of fuel and insurance among other increases. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national inflation rate was 6.4% as of February 2023.

Town concerns

Supervisor Gerry Siller told Mr. Hunt he had hoped the town’s Ferry Study Group would have been able to raise questions about the proposed rate changes before the County got involved. Mr. Hunt agreed to meet with the study group.

But he said he reached out to the supervisor in February when he also spoke with County Legislators Bridget Fleming and Albert Krupski. He said he never heard back from Mr. Siller until last week when Mr. Hunt said he again let the supervisor know about the proposed rate hike.

Ms. Lagudis said North Ferry officials will meet directly with the Ferry Study Group and two members of the Town Board on Monday to review the application.