We explain the new ferry tolls, which are set to go into effect this summer.
Beginning July 1st, changes to tolling for the state’s coastal ferries will take effect. Board of Transportation officials met in Raleigh last month to finalized the plan that would increase tolls at existing ferry routes and create new fares for routes that are currently free. Communications Officer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation Steve Abbott says the reason for the change came in 2011, when the General Assembly mandated the DOT increase their annual revenue from 2.1 million dollars to 5 million dollars.
“You may recall that the rates were supposed to take affect last year, but Gov. Perdue ordered a one year moratorium so it actually should have started in April of 2012. She stopped it for a year because of the economic impact at the coast but then it came back this year.”
Five routes will be tolled, and each one has a different fee. Routes that are longer and use more fuel are also more expensive. The cost of the toll also depends on if you’re in a car, truck, or just riding a bike. For example, a one way fare on the Cherry Branch Minnesott ferry – which is a 20 minute ride across the Neuse River with a vehicle under 20 feet would cost $4 and $1 for each passenger. For the Bayview Aurora route, which is a half hour, the cost will be $10 plus $2 for each rider.
“Now there’s also the opportunity to buy one year passes, which greatly reduces that cost depending on that situation. As opposed to being in the past, it used to be that you had a pass assigned to a vehicle, but now a person can get a pass no matter what vehicle they’re driving in or riding in.”
The commuter passes are available on all the ferry routes. They range in price from 25 to 700 dollars depending on the vehicle being transported. Local residents who use the ferry service everyday say they’re the ones that will be impacted the most by the ferry tolls.
“Commercial fisherman trucking fish back and forth from locations, businessmen going back and forth in their pickup trucks, and residents going back and forth, so these ferry fees would be devastating to those just trying to make it.”
That’s Pamlico County resident John Mariner. We spoke to him during a series of public meetings that were held by the DOT to hear concerns from residents. There were meetings in Morehead City, Washington, and Ocracoke. There were two meetings in Pamlico County with over 1,000 people in attendance.
“It’s only affecting the people the local residents that need it. That’s the only people that are getting hurt.”
We spoke with Oriental resident Rich Russo shortly after the ferry fees were announced in 2012. Like many other residents in Pamlico County, Russo uses the Cherry Branch- Minnesott ferry every day to commute to his job in Havelock.
“People don’t make that much money and they start paying 8 dollars a day, that’s 40 dollars a week. That adds up.”
I spoke with a few more people on the Cherry Branch to Minnesott Beach route who declined to be interviewed, but told me the tolls would place the heaviest burden on daily commuters, rather than tourists and people riding the ferry for entertainment.
“I don’t understand. If they need the tolls so bad, why don’t they just put up tolls on I-95? They’d make millions there. I mean it’s everyone going back and forth back and forth to Florida. When I go to New York, I pay the Jersey turnpike, I pay Maryland, I pay to go over every single bridge, you know what? That’s what you have to do.”
In addition to the new and increased ferry fees, many residents were outraged that only five of the seven coastal ferry routes would be tolled. Again, Oriental resident John Mariner.
“The issue passed by the legislature excluded a large ridership part of the ferry system that would have gone a long way had it been included in meeting the goals or the earnings, revenues to be produced.”
DOT spokesperson Steve Abbott says charging for the Ocracoke-Hatteras and Knott’s Island runs was not an option.
“We don’t have a role in that. Basically, the General Assembly passed the law and we’re mandated to follow it.”
We tried to speak with the sponsors of the Appropriations Act of 2011, which requires the DOT to implement the ferry tolls on five of the seven routes. However, both Harold Brubaker and Mitch Gillespie have both resigned from the General Assembly. The new ferry toll charges have been approved by the Board of Transportation, but Abbott says they still have more work to do.
“The next step is actually a legal process, because it’s a law change, we submitted the wording to the State Administrative Code and once it’s in there the program and the plan is good to go and we’re looking to start July 1st.”
If you’d like to see a list of the approved ferry routes, go to publicradioeast.org. I’m Jared Brumbaugh.