The final report of Edgartown's Purchase the Chappy Ferry Committee (PCFC) (available here) recommends against town purchase of the ferry, and against the current licensing arrangement with ferry owner Roy Hayes. But it falls short of specific recommendations to address the frustration of Chappaquiddick residents who expressed concern at two public hearings about the ferry's future. Among the complaints are rising fares, long staging lines, and the level of service.
The report, a little more than one page in length, along with a thick binder of supporting documents, was presented to the Edgartown selectmen Monday, capping seven months of work by the committee.
Selectmen appointed the committee after Mr. Hayes offered the business for sale at the approximate price of $3 million.
During a meeting that lasted less than ten minutes, each selectman thanked the committee members and praised the work of the panel, but there was no debate on the recommendations of the PCFC. "I want to keep that at a minimum today," said board chairman Margaret Serpa. "There's a lot here to digest. Hopefully everybody from over there will be happy, or at least still speak to each other."
Ms. Serpa declined further comment following the meeting.
In presenting the final report, PCFC chairman and Chappaquiddick resident Woody Filley noted the panel was originally charged with the question of whether the town should purchase the Chappy ferry. "Unfortunately, we can't give you an unequivocal yes or no," he said. "On the surface, it may seem like a simple question, but it's extremely complex. Unfortunately, I think we felt, as the time frame came up for this meeting today, that there are still a lot of issues we could have looked at, and options we could have evaluated more completely."
The committee agreed, by a 10-1 vote, to present the selectmen with three recommendations, outlined in the report.
The first, a series of points for action addressing rates and service, included appointment of an advisory committee as an interface between the selectmen and ferry customers. The committee also recommended a full review of all existing and potential rate categories, along with establishing criteria and a procedure to review requested rate increases. They also recommended that a minimum standard of performance be specified, and that selectmen maintain the rights for reviewing and approving schedule changes.
The second recommendation explains that the committee voted "that the town should not purchase the Chappy Ferry and run it as a town department."
The third reports that the committee voted "that the selectmen should not allow the present condition of ownership (private owner with the same licensing arrangement) to be continued in the future."
Additionally, the report recommends that the board request town counsel to immediately begin review and redraft of lease and license terms, and appoint an advisory committee to continue study of other options.
"The bottom line, scanning through the report, it's pretty much inconclusive," said selectman Michael Donaroma after the meeting. "They didn't agree on one specific thing. "Everybody has their own agendas on this. Some people are very concerned about the rates, some are concerned about the service, some are discussing whether trucks should be put on a different schedule, some are talking about whether Chappaquiddick residents should get a different rate. They did recommend that the town not buy it. I tend to agree with that, it needs to be an entrepreneur, someone who's in business, someone whose livelihood depends on delivering a good service."
Following the meeting, Mr. Filley disagreed with the contention that there was substantial disagreement among committee members about the best course of action.
"It was a very complex question, although it seems very simple on the surface," said Mr. Filley. "What was nice was we had a good broad spectrum of people on the committee who could offer their viewpoints. The fact that we came to some recommendations that everybody agreed on was testament to the hard work of the committee. I don't think there was substantial disagreement, there's different philosophies on how it should be run. In general, I think people respected that it's a service that, no matter what, is really our lifeline, and it's important for people to try and make sure that it works out for everybody."
However, some members of the committee disagreed enough to circulate a minority report two weeks ago. That report, prepared and distributed outside the committee framework, recommends the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) as the best option to operate the Chappy ferry.
The report cites advantages to VTA operation such as the likelihood of government grants to purchase new ferries, tax advantages, familiarity with state and federal transportation programs that could help reduce costs and ticket prices, and an experienced management structure that should better serve the public during emergencies.