Proposed fare raises from the new owner of the Chappaquiddick ferry have drawn complaints from dozens of residents.
Peter Wells has asked permission from selectmen to raise cash prices for round-trip journeys from $3 to $4 for foot passengers and from $10 to $12 for cars.
To date 35 letters against the proposed hikes have come into the Edgartown selectmen’s office from the sparsely populated island.
The 527-foot trip, which generally takes between one and two minutes, is the only way on and off the island for most residents.
At a public hearing on the matter at town hall Monday, Peter Wells read from a letter, addressed to selectmen, detailing nine reasons for the proposed fare increase. Among them are last year’s breach at Norton Point which has increased currents into the narrow ferry channel, adding time to the journey. This raises fuel consumption and the cost of fuel has recently skyrocketed.
Mr. Wells is also looking to act on the plans of previous owner Roy Hayes to build another ferry, in order to increase efficiency.
An e-mail circulated by Chappaquiddick Island Association Terry Forde at the beginning of the month urged residents to address comments and concerns to the selectmen. While expressing support for Mr. Wells personally, the resulting comments generally opposed the 20 per cent increase. One letter writer mentioned that he pays less to cross New York’s George Washington bridge than for the two-minute journey to Chappaquiddick. Another wrote that he would be canoeing to the mainland more often to avoid the prices.
At the Monday hearing Dorothy Dropick called for greater administrative oversight for the business and questioned a newly introduced fee of $150 for false alarms on emergency services. Mr. Wells emphasizes that the fee is limited to false alarms.
Speaking to the point of resident ticket books, which are discounted, John Dropick argued that the definition of residency should be expanded to commonwealth standards of six months and a day. He urged selectmen to seriously examine the rate request. “Such a comprehensive number of changes are being proposed here,” he said.
But Richard Knight spoke in defense of the proposed changes at the meeting. “One of the findings of the committee was that a change of ownership will entail raising rates,” he said, “It shouldn’t come as any surprise. Let’s give them a chance.”
Nancy Hugger agreed: “This owner has a $3,3 million mortgage. In the past people didn’t have these mortgages. We need to have compassion for Sally and Peter.”
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck expressed his disapproval.
“It was a surprise to me to see this so soon,” he said. “Things haven’t changed that much. The breach broke over a year ago and oil increases aren’t a secret.”
Selectmen voted to continue the hearing until May 5 and are advertising for a three-member subcommittee to keep them informed on ferry matters.
After the meeting Mr. Wells said he was neither surprised nor alarmed by the reaction. “I’m very comfortable with the process,” he said. “I like democracy.”
Mr. Smadbeck said there was a lot of work left to do. “What’s a public hearing for? To hear the public. What did we hear? 33-9 against,” he said, referring to the tally of letters for and against the proposal at the time. “[The continuation] will give Peter a chance to do some work with the community.”
Raising the cash prices will affect fares across the board; the other fares are worked out as percentages — for example the increase will bring the rate on resident fare books up to $50, which works out to $1 per round trip.
The ferry is privately owned but licensed by the town; selectman have the authority to set maximum cash fares.
Discount ticket books are at the discretion of the ferry owner; currently there are two tiers of discount books: one that is open to all and another, deeply discounted book which is reserved for year-round residents, defined as people who live on Chappaquiddick 10 months of the year.
There are about 100 year-round residents. The remaining population is seasonal.
Mr. Wells bought the ferry this January for $3.3 million; he said the fare increases are a necessity.
“The people who use it have to pay for it. The rates will always have to rise to keep up with inflation,” he said this week, “I don’t think it’s outrageous. We’re there all winter not making money.
He also suggested it may be worth looking at a new approach to the discounts: “Right now it is based on residency which has discontent and confusion. Perhaps it should be on need,” Mr. Wells said.