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50 YEARS AGO IN HISTORY

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04/26/12 8:03am

If South Ferry officials are successful in their application to the Suffolk County Legislature, commuters could be paying higher rates as of July 1 and non-Island drivers would also once again have to pay for any passengers they bring along.

In the company’s first proposed rate hike request since 2008, South Ferry owner and President Cliff Clark told the Town Board at its work session Tuesday that he’s requesting a 15.4-percent increase for Shelter Island residents to purchase a 10 roundtrip book of tickets. The cost would rise from $52 to $60. Islanders would pay $57 rather than $50 for a book of 10 one-way tickets, a 15.29-percent increase.

It’s up to the Suffolk County Legislature to decide whether or not to grant the rate request, which Mr. Clark said has been made unavoidable by rising fuel costs and declining revenues due to a falloff in traffic. The same reasons were given when North Ferry asked for a rate increase last spring. It was granted in September.

After a decade during which South Ferry levied no charges for passengers, non-residents would once again be charged $1 for each under the rate proposal. Non-resident commuters also would see their rates increase by 14.28 percent for a 10 roundtrip ticket book to $98, up from $85. For a book of 10 one-way tickets, non-residents would pay $80, up from $70.

The company eliminated charges for passengers in vehicles in 2002, maintaining it simplified fare collections while giving the public “a significant break,” according to information Mr. Clark provided Tuesday.

But to generate the revenue the company needs, he’s asking the legislature to reinstate a $1 one-way charge per passenger for non-resident ratepayers, rather than request a larger rate hike for all categories of ferry users.

“We feel the passenger fare method is better as it will pass a significant portion of the revenue to seasonal, transient users,” Mr. Clark said in his written proposal.

“This is the least enjoyable part of our job,” Mr. Clark told the Town Board Tuesday. “I hate doing it.” But he said there has been “a lot of work we’ve had to put off” because of higher fuel costs and the raise would allow the company to begin to address those needs.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, commenting on the South Ferry application at Tuesday’s Town Board work session, said he was “delighted” the company had given the town a copy of its “audited financials” for 2010 and 2011. He said it was a first for the town. Although the North Ferry Co. and South Ferry have to open their books to the legislature’s Budget Review Office when they seek rate increases, he noted, they do not have to release their numbers to the town. The fact that South Ferry had done so meant the company was “treating us with professionalism and respect so we will reciprocate,” the supervisor said.

Mr. Dougherty clashed with North Ferry Company’s Manager Bridg Hunt last summer when he rebuffed Mr. Dougherty’s request to see the company’s books.

Mr. Clark had hoped to have the rate proposal before the county legislature earlier but a miscommunication between South Ferry and its accounting firm resulted in a delay in getting two years of audited financial reports prepared for the county’s Budget Review Office, Mr. Clark said. Now he’s hoping the legislature can act to approve the rate increase by its June 19 meeting so the new rates can take effect before the July 4 holiday.

Before the legislature holds a hearing on the proposal and votes on it, the Budget Review Office will issue a recommendation within 45 days. Meanwhile, the Shelter Island Ferry Advisory Committee will hold a public informational meeting and issue its own recommendations.

Getting new rates in place at the start of the summer is “critical,” Mr. Clark said, explaining that if the Legislature failed to act on the application at its June 19 meeting, a 30-day legislative recess would result in a loss of additional revenues for the summer.

RISING COSTS, LESS TRAFFIC

“With skyrocketing fuel prices combined with declining traffic, South Ferry realized a net loss from operations of $27,538 in 2010 and $167,559 in 2011,” Mr. Clark said in his submissions to the country and town.

“We’re no different than any other business,” he told the Reporter after Tuesday’s meeting, while noting that the company uses 85,000 to 95,000 gallons of fuel a year.

South Ferry never fully recovered from escalating fuel costs between 2003 and 2007 when prices increased by 293 percent, he said. While there was a decline in 2008, fuel costs have continued to increase since 2009 while ferry traffic has shown a steady decline, he said.

The company carried 62,000 fewer cars and 5,389 fewer trucks in 2011 than it did in 2007, he said.

Between 2004 and 2011, the company paid “$687,055 over a typical budget” for fuel “without imposing fuel surcharges, which are typical in the transportation/delivery industry,” Mr. Clark said.

“We’ve really been operating on a shoestring,” he said. “It’s essential to be able to keep operating and maintaining the boats.”

At the same time, he said he was sensitive to the fact that ferry riders are experiencing difficult economic times.

“We’re part of the community; these people are our friends, our neighbors, our relatives,” Mr. Clark said.

07/13/11 6:20pm

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.

05/18/11 10:48pm

PETER BOODY PHOTO | North Ferry’s Manhansett docks here on a rainy Wednesday.

Facing rising costs and a continuing drop in ridership, North Ferry Company officials on Monday said they had asked the Suffolk County Legislature to approve a rate increase that would raise revenues 7.8 percent. It would be the first rate hike for vehicles since June 2004, when the company was in the midst of a program to replace its fleet of small, aging boats with larger-capacity ferries.

Under the company’s proposal, same day round-trip tickets for non-residents would cost $15, up 15.3 percent from $13. The non-discounted one-way fare would go up $1 to $10 or 11 percent.

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 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.

“We’re trying to have a standardized discount fare for all Shelter Islanders,” explained Bridg Hunt, manager of North Ferry. Mr. Hunt and Julie Ben-Susan, general manager of the ferry’s owner, the Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corporation (HPOC), announced the rate proposal on Monday in an interview at the Reporter office.

Also under the rate 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.

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 the county reduced it for residents in 2007 after a local outcry.

Because of higher costs and slumping ridership, the company believes “that we will not be able to fund ourselves through next spring, even if we have a good summer,” according to a prepared statement that Mr. Hunt submitted to the Reporter.

“There is no way we can control the volume of our traffic. It has declined significantly over the past six months, amplifying the impact of rising fuel prices,” the statement reads.

Mr. Hunt said the company was running in the red for the third year in a row, with the deficit this year currently at about $250,000. The company closed the gap in the past with operational cash flow and a loan from HPOC.

He and Ms. Ben-Susan blamed rising fuel costs, climbing health insurance premiums for employees, and a drop in ridership in all categories, including a 10 percent drop in truck traffic compared to last year.

Ferry rates in Suffolk County are regulated by the County Legislature. Mr. Hunt and Ms. Ben-Susan said they had met with County Legislator Ed Romaine, who represents Shelter Island’s district, and explained the company’s need for a rate increase.

Mr. Romaine could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Supervisor James Dougherty reported at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that Mr. Hunt and Ms. Ben-Susan had visited Town Hall to inform him of the rate proposal. He said that in his career as a lawyer and businessman in mergers and acquisitions he’d always asked to “see the financials” before judging a deal. He said he’d asked to see North Ferry’s books “and they looked like two people in white coats who had come to take me away.” He said the company considered its books “proprietary information.”

In addition to a public hearing before the Legislature in Hauppauge, the rate hike will be subject to a local hearing before the Shelter Island Ferry Advisory Committee. Mr. Hunt and Ms. Ben-Susan said they doubted either hearing would take place before mid-summer. They said a rate hike, if the Legislature approves one, probably would not take effect until September or October.

In the prepared statement, company officials said, “Please note the resident discount for round trips, to accommodate people who live on Shelter Island and must go off-island for select services, is significant. Residents will pay $2.60 per crossing. It costs North Ferry $7.16 for an average car to cross the bay. So, even with these increases, the resident and volume discount tickets are below cost, subsidized by the casual traveler (who will pay $10 for a one-way crossing) and commercial truck traffic.”

The total yield of the proposed increases would be $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. No increase in revenues is proposed for trucks, for which rates vary by length.

The proposed increases would not affect current bicycle rates of $5 per trip, or $3 per trip with a commuter discount.

Although the ferry company’s 2006 rate increase for foot passengers sparked a backlash, its last increase for higher vehicle fares in 2004 did not prompt an outcry. The company by then had pleased critics of its long ferry lines with the addition of a new, larger boat that dramatically reduced waiting times. Officials said in 2004 the rate increase was needed to build a second big boat. The Legislature passed its request unanimously. The company proposed its controversial rate hike for foot passengers in 2006, saying it would help fund a third larger boat, which has since joined the fleet.