Ferry discount eligibility panel irks some Chappy folk
Some Chappaquiddick residents are in an uproar over the establishment of a resident tickets committee that determines their eligibility for discount fares on the Chappaquiddick ferry. More than 25 Chappaquiddick residents delivered their opinions on the question to the Edgartown selectmen Monday afternoon.
The small ferry which can carry three averaged size vehicles crosses Edgartown Harbor and provides a reliable link for residents and visitors to the small community that is connected to the main town by a ribbon of barrier beach accessible to off road vehicles and subject to closures.
Some people claimed the committee's requirements and its monitoring of their ferry use is akin to spying and an invasion of their privacy, while others said they were happy with the system as it is. Others pushed the selectmen to consider having the town take over the ferry operation. That appeared to be part of the ferry owner's agenda as well.
The On Time Two ferry makes her run to Chappy. Photo by Tim Johnson
The owner of the On Time Ferry and the chairman of the committee that he established also spoke at the meeting in defense of the new plan.
Roy Hayes, owner of the ferry service, said his recent expansion of the resident committee was prompted by several confrontations his ferry captains had with residents over the so-called "orange tickets," the discounted $3 round-trip car fares offered to year-round Chappaquiddick residents. The fare for all others is $10.
"They [the captains] don't want to be involved in this process," Mr. Hayes said. He asked some of the island's residents to help with the situation, and people volunteered to take over the responsibility of handling the discount fares. There are now five people on the committee, which sent a letter to all chappy residents outlining the criteria for the fares.
"The only way I would get involved is if someone needed financial assistance," Mr. Hayes said. However, he has received complaints about the letter, which stated that only those who live on the island 11 months are qualified for the special tickets. As a result of the complaints, Mr. Hayes expanded the 30-day off-Island limit to 45 days a year, not including pressing personal or medical issues.
Along with the letter to the Chappaquiddick residents is a form all household members must sign declaring their eligibility for the discount tickets. Mr. Hayes said he wanted more than the casual, verbal agreements used in the past.
Chappaquiddick resident William Geresy called reporting to a committee "an invasion of privacy... a violation of my civil rights. We need to stop it. Without a reasonable process, this whole things can cause bad feelings." He recommended the selectmen establish a commission to study the situation and take action.
Resident Pat Rose agreed. "I feel like it's an invasion of my privacy. I had a really rough encounter with a captain who questioned where I was going. It was hurtful."
"It's not spying," Mr. Hayes responded to the charges. "I want to make sure people meet the 10 and a half month agreement."
Liz Villard, chairman of the resident ticket committee and a deckhand on Mr. Hayes' ferries, also defended Mr. Hayes and the committee's role. She said that discount rates are a gift from Mr. Hayes, which he subsidizes and loses money on.
"We do not intend to spy on neighbors," Ms. Villard said. She said one cause of the problems is that more and more residents are not using the ferry every day, so it is more difficult for the ferry captains to identify the year-round residents. "It's really an honor system," she said.
While giving Mr. Hayes credit for operating a good ferry service, Chappaquiddick resident John J. Dropick also said the town should be planning for the future and take a fairer stand on the residency issue. He noted that the state only requires six months and a day to determine town residency and the Steamship Authority only requires an address and a driver's license.
Mr. Dropick recommended a ferry ticket structure that would apply to all Edgartown residents, and he said the Chappaquiddick ferry should be considered part of the town's transportation network.
"The town should be participating in picking up the tab for a new ferry and future ferries that will be needed," he said.
Ron Monterosso also said the ferry should be "a service the town is supposed to be paying...an intra-town issue." He suggested that the town issue stickers to Chappaquiddick residents to use the ferry similar to dump stickers.
He said residents could buy a year's worth of tickets at the discount rate, but they would be invalid after a year whether or not someone used them all. "Make it economically self-enforcing," he said.
In his final comments, Mr. Hayes said, "This is a private business. I can give discounts to anyone I want and make my own regulations and requirements." He also announced he plans to buy two new larger ferries at $700,000 each and that he will ask for a rate increase to pay for them.
However, he encouraged the selectmen to take a bigger role in the ferry service, saying the town has an opportunity to buy the ferry.
"It's important you get involved," he told the selectmen, as he revealed that he plans to sell the ferry operation in four to five years and retire. He has run it for 19 years under a lease agreement with Edgartown.
Selectman Art Smadbeck questioned Mr. Hayes' purchase of new ferries if he plans to sell the service and retire soon. "It's not in the best interests [of the town] to build a couple of ferries to your specs. That locks us in."
Mr. Smadbeck said the town needs to take a look at running the ferry first, and then look at the equipment.
Mr. Hayes said he is getting the new 65-foot boats to accommodate SUVs, even though he said summer traffic on the ferry hasn't increased since 1988.
"If the town wants to build the boats, you're welcome to," he said.
Selectwoman Margaret Serpa suggested expanding the resident committee to look at a long-range plan for the ferry service.
Ms. Villard asked that the selectmen create a separate committee from hers, which was set up just to deal with the residency issue. Mr. Hayes said he would not want to work with a town commission, but would work with the selectmen. The selectmen agreed to advertise for members for a separate committee.