At a hearing Monday Edgartown selectmen approved fare increases for the Chappaquiddick ferry, as a recent spate of complaints from residents gave way to resounding public support for the ferry’s new owner.
Selectmen unanimously granted owner Peter Wells’s request to raise cash prices on round trips from $3 to $4 for foot passengers and from $10 to $12 for cars. The rates scheduled for May 1, are already in effect.
As a privately owned, publicly regulated utility, bought by Mr. Wells from previous owner Roy Hayes this January, the ferry’s cash fare limits are traditionally set by selectmen.
The board voted to grant the increases with a view to revisit the issue in October and to then have a firmer look at the fares, once a full year of books from the new owner could be examined. At the suggestion of town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport selectmen also plan to enlist a consultant on rates previously used by the town to evaluate water department rates.
Mr. Wells explained that the hikes were a necessary part of maintaining the business, made more costly by a variety of factors. Among them is journey time caused by last year’s breach at Norton Point which has brought stronger currents into the narrow ferry channel. With rising fuel costs, Mr. Wells argued, added seconds count on the Chappaquiddick ferry: the 527-foot trip generally takes between one and two minutes. According to Mr. Wells, the choppier waters increases hard landings on the two docks which means more wear and tear on the ferries.
The ferry is the only route on and off the Island for most residents, a fact which compounded the concern over the increases. Summer residents Beth and Rick Biros complained of prohibitive rates and long lines in an e-mail sent to the town administrator in mid-April.
“It is really wrong to have such high rates for the ferry,” they wrote, adding: “The price of the Chappy’s lifeline to Edgartown has risen to an unaffordable level.”
Though more than 30 complaints about the increases were received by the town administrator ahead of April’s hearing, those received in the interim before Monday’s decision were fewer and all from part-time residents. Summer residents and tourists will be most affected by the fare raises since the ferry also offers heavy discounts for full-time residents and for fare book buyers. These rates are offered at the discretion of the owner.
Mr. Wells intends to raise rates here too — bringing the fare book prices up to $50. Though several Chappaquiddick residents spoke in support of Mr. Wells at the first hearing, the pervading tone at the hearing and in the correspondence sent to the town administrator was firmly against the raises.
This was hardly surprising for Mr. Wells.
“Everyone should say no to fare increases, it makes sense,” he said this week, adding: “It was noteworthy that anyone spoke in favor of it at all.”
Regardless, the tone at the second hearing was far more positive. The majority of residents present on Monday threw their support behind the new ferry owner.
“I don’t think Peter would be asking for a rate increase if he didn’t need it,” said Bob Fynbo, a candidate for selectman at last month’s town election, adding that Mr. Wells had already begun to make improvements to the ferry. Others agreed.
“If Peter hadn’t stepped up you’d be floundering,” resident Laura Jemison said.
Mr. Wells plans to use the funds to build a third ferry this summer on Chappaquiddick, which will enable the company to run a less interrupted service in the summer months.
A new hurricane-proof fuel tank is due to arrive in the next few days.
“I’m delighted with the outcome,” Mr. Wells said, concluding: “I’m appreciative of the support and hope to pay them in services.”