During a lengthy meeting via Zoom Monday evening, the Chappy Ferry steering committee discussed possible changes to the ferry service.
At its peak, the meeting had 77 participants. Committee members took up how to go about the process of potentially transferring ownership of the Edgartown transport, after a failed attempt by current owners Peter Wells and Sally Snipes to sell the business to a small group of seasonal Chappy residents earlier this season.
Many year-round Chappy residents pushed back on the idea of continuing privatization of the service, and advocated for the town to take it on instead.
Committee member Rick Schifter said the committee had previously formed a subcommittee “to compare and contrast, and develop pros and cons” to a possible ownership change from private interest. He said there have been “some informal efforts on Chappy” to address the issue.
Committee members discussed establishing further groups to help the process.
Town administrator James Hagerty noted the complexity of the undertaking, regarding possible choices of where to take the enterprise in the future.
He said he reached out to the consultant that conducted the HMS study for the Steamship’s functions and operations a few years ago, for insight into the matter. This includes the benefits or detriments of ownership being public, private, quasi-public, etc., in addition to rates.
Hagerty said a more in-depth analysis would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Additionally, Hagerty raised concerns about the subjectivity of individuals who could be tasked with deciding how to move forward, and suggested seeking professional advice. “If we have different subcommittees, results are going to be questioned as bias for whatever interests those individual parties have,” he said.
“We’re talking tens of millions of property value on Chappy, we’re talking a seven-figure amount of a business, we’re talking all these factors,” Hagerty continued, “and if we spend $30,000, $40,000 to get someone externally to look at this problem and give us a recommendation, I think that’s the appropriate way to go.”
The committee unanimously agreed to recommend to the select board engaging a third-party consulting firm to review the issue and assess next steps.
Hagerty said the expense would need to be approved by voters at town meeting.
Additionally, after prior rumors of increased rates had become substantiated, the committee discussed proposed fare hikes put forth by Wells.
Wells said the expense of operation has been equal to the service’s revenue stream, therefore an increase is necessary. He said fuel costs, inflation, and overall ferry operation and maintenance are all factors in the request.
He requested all fees be increased by around 15 percent, noting that fees have gone unchanged for a few years, with the last changes being from $12 to $13 for a vehicle fare in 2019, and $9 to $10 for regular discount book tickets for year-rounders. The proposed increase would be $15 per round-trip, and $11.50, respectively.
Per his letter written to the select board, and presented at Monday’s Chappy Ferry committee meeting, Wells said, “The across-the-board rate increase will enable the ferry company to afford to add people to the current Chappy year-rounder program,” as there are now a greater number of people who qualify.
Committee member Tom Tilghman said it would be necessary to find out the current operational costs of the service to move forward with decisionmaking.
The committee subsequently voted to recommend to the select board a rate increase based on the Consumer Price Index from the date of the last fare increase, which “may result in different percentage increases for the different rates,” Schifter clarified.