Edgartown hikes Chappy ferry rates
Edgartown selectmen voted this week to allow a rate hike for the Chappaquiddick ferry. Roundtrip rates for passenger cars increased from $10 to $12, and passengers from $3 to $4, effective this past Tuesday morning.
Peter Wells, the veteran ferry captain who purchased the business from long-time owner Roy Hayes in January, requested the price increase last month.
Selectmen have the authority to set the maximum rate for ferry service. Mr. Wells contends that he has the right to set prices for any discount programs. Since April 2007, when a powerful storm carved a breech in the Norton Point beach, the three-car ferry is the only way to get a vehicle on or off Chappy.
Selectmen granted the rate increase, the first since 2004, under the condition that it will be reviewed at the end of October.
"We'll have more to go on," said selectman Margaret Serpa. "I think we need to get Peter through the summer."
"It makes sense to do it this way," said chairman Art Smadbeck. "I'm comfortable with the temporary granting."
Selectman Michael Donaroma also supported the increase, making the board's decision unanimous.
The action followed a second public hearing, held Monday, which was well attended by both supporters and opponents of the ferry rate hike.
At the hearing, Mr. Wells responded to a request that he outline increases in expenses since he purchased the business. He told the board that since adding personnel and granting raises, his salary expenses are up 41 percent. Health insurance is up 39 percent, liability and vessel insurance up 29 percent, and diesel fuel up 23 percent, according to Mr. Wells. He also said he plans to construct a third ferry to replace one of the current vessels, and use the older vessel as a back up for breakdowns and scheduled maintenance.
Mr. Wells told the board he borrowed more than $3 million to purchase and operate the ferry. "I'm delighted to be able to do this," said Mr. Wells. "I just need everyone to pay their fair share."
Many in attendance at the hearings were concerned with increases in discount ticket books, and strict residency requirements that qualify about 140 Chappy residents for much deeper discounts. Mr. Wells is not issuing any new residency discounts.
"It's almost run like it's a country club," said Laura Jernison, who described herself as an "almost full-time" resident of Chappaquiddick. "You're either in the club, and get treated a certain way, or you're out of the club."
"I think that the criticisms of the Chappy ferry's request is unfair and unthinking," wrote Edith Potter, a long-time resident of Chappy. "There is no way that he can keep the rates the same, and accomplish all he wants to do to improve the ferries. Many of his changes are at the request, the urging, and the criticism of the summer people."
The letter from Ms. Potter, a former Edgartown selectman, was one of more than 60 letters and e-mails sent to the selectmen taking positions on the rate hike, or offering suggestions and alternatives.
On May 1, Mr. Wells increased the cost of discount ticket books for automobiles from $175 to $200, and for passengers from $125 to $135. That amounts to $8 per round trip for vehicles, and $2.70 for passengers.
On May 15, he plans to raise the subsidized rates for Chappy residents, defined as those who do not leave the island for more than 45 days per year. The rate would be 75 percent lower than the new regular rates. A roundtrip would be $3 for a vehicle, and $1 for passengers.
Selectmen plan to enlist the services of an outside expert to review rates. Mr. Wells, and before him, Mr. Hayes, have been unwilling to release their private financial data. Selectmen are hopeful that a consultant experienced in rate setting can look at the financial data in confidence, and advise town officials whether a rate increase is warranted.
The board also advertised for volunteers to serve on a committee that would serve as an interface between the ferry owner and the selectmen, and were prepared to establish the committee at Monday's meeting. But after objections from several residents who thought the purpose and duties of the committee were poorly defined, the selectmen delayed the appointments.