By Timothy Bolger
A proposed $2 increase on round-trip ferry fares for western Fire Island advanced this week and is moving full steam ahead toward a vote before the Suffolk County Legislature.
During an April 20 meeting in Hauppauge, the Public Works, Transportation and Energy Committee unanimously approved the Bay Shore-based Fire Island Ferries’ request for an 11 percent fare hike bill that would up one-way tickets from $9 to $10 and round-trip fares from $17 to $19. Lawmakers also moved a step closer to approving an estimated 18 percent fare increase for lateral trips via Fire Island Water Taxi, the ferry operator’s sister company.
“Our organization, we feel pretty comfortable that it’s a fair rate hike,” George Hoffman, a Setauket-based lobbyist who represents the Fire Island Association (FIA), told the committee. “Everyone took a look and thought that it was reasonable.”
Tim Mooney, who owns both the ferry and water taxi companies, made the requests in January in the hope that lawmakers would approve what he termed “fare relief” before Memorial Day, the unofficial start of beach season, when ridership peaks. The full legislature is scheduled to vote on the proposals at its next general meeting on Tuesday, April 28.
“We support the request for rate increase,” the legislature’s Budget Review Office wrote March 9, in an analysis on which lawmakers based their approval. “Even with the proposed rate relief, Fire Island Water Taxi losses will likely continue, and Fire Island Ferries, and the Ferries’ passengers, will likely continue to support Fire Island Water Taxi operations. A ‘break even’ increase for the Water Taxi would probably require another 4 percent increase above the requested rate increase for that company.”
Aside from the one-way and round-trip ferry fare hikes, a 40-trip book of adult tickets would increase $31, from $264 to $295, under the proposal. The proposed water taxi fare hike includes a $2 increase on the minimum adult fare of $7 and a $50 increase on $150 cross-bay water taxi rides. Lateral fares make up 74 percent of the water taxi company’s revenue.
Mario Posillico, the Saltaire village administrator, was the only person to criticize the proposal at the public hearings, arguing that the drop in fuel costs and rate of previous increases suggests that the request is unreasonable. The ferry company said that the increase is necessary to make up for increased payroll, insurance, pension and tax costs.
“FIA has not necessarily been opposed to the proposed rate increase, although to many of our members, the requested across the board increase of 11.7 percent seemed excessive in light of recent lower fuel costs, higher ridership in the last two years, and substantially increased freight revenue the ferry has enjoyed as the Island residents rebuilt homes and repaired community infrastructure after Sandy,” FIA President Suzy Goldhirsch wrote in a letter to the committee. “More important to us than the actual details of the rate increase itself is our insistence that the rate setting process should be a completely fair and transparent one. We believe that impacted residents, business owners, and service providers who use the ferries should have an opportunity to review the financial information on which the proposed increase is based, and which unfortunately had not initially been made public in this rate proceeding.”
If approved, the ferries serving the eight western communities will be the most expensive of the three companies serving the public. Patchogue-based Davis Park Ferry Company, which also serves Watch Hill, last year got approval to match Fire Island Ferries current fares. The Sayville Ferry Service that caters to Fire Island Pines, Cherry Grove, Water Island and Sailor’s Haven charges $8.25 for an adult one way and $16 round trip.
Riders will have one more chance to share their opinions with lawmakers at the public comment period that precedes the general meeting of the county legislature on April 28.
Written letters to Suffolk County Legislature can be mailed to: W.H. Rogers Legislature Building, 725 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Smithtown, NY 11787. Individuals may also personally address the legislature members at the public portion of the general meeting. Learn more by visiting http://legis.suffolkcountyny.gov/howtospeak.html.
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