By Timothy Bolger
Riverhead, NY – Fire Island ferry riders will pay $2 more for round-trip tickets to and from the western communities starting May 15, and water taxi riders island-wide will pay even more, depending upon distance traveled.
The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved the fare hikes with no debate during their April 28 meeting in Riverhead. Fire Island Ferries, which serves communities between Ocean Bay Park and Kismet out of its Bay Shore terminal, said it and its water taxi subsidiary need to cover increased operation costs. Island civic leaders didn’t object, but negotiated biannual meetings with the companies’ owner moving forward to improve transparency.
“Everything else keeps going up,” Tim Mooney, President of Fire Island Ferries, Inc. said of why he asked for what he termed “fare relief.” Increased health benefits for his staff and taxes had some of the biggest impacts on his cost of doing business, he said.
Rates last increased for the ferry company in 2008 and in 2010 for the water taxis. This time, one-way ferry tickets rose $1 from $9 to $10 and round-trip tickets increased 11 percent from $17 to $19. Water taxi fare hikes range from $2 more for the shortest $7 trips to $50 more for the priciest $150 cross-bay trips, with a host of variables between.
Local economic “impact will depend upon the effect of the rate increase on the viability of the ferry company and on potential passengers’ desire to use the services of the company,” Robert Lipp, director of the legislature’s Budget Review Office, wrote in a financial impact statement.
Fire Island Association President Suzy Goldhirsch took issue with Lipp’s findings and other parts of the process, in a letter to Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who leads the transportation committee that first considered the companies’ petitions.
“The Legislature does not give the Budget Office any formal guidelines as to how to evaluate a petition for a rate increase from the FI Ferries/Fire Island Water Taxi,” Goldhirsch wrote. “Lipp acknowledged this fact, and also reported that he did not do an analysis to determine if the there was a more appropriate rate increase.”
Lipp countered that proposing alternate fare hikes is “easier said than done,” he told the News, noting that analyzing cash-only businesses such as the ferry and water taxi companies is “very difficult.”
Goldhirsch also argued in the letter that the legislature could have adjusted the increase and not only voted for or against it, and petitions for fare hikes need to be “more widely circulated” to give more time for public comments. Saltaire Village Administrator Mario Posillico was the only one who testified against the fare hike during public hearings after it was proposed in January. “Reasonable” is the word FIA lobbyist George Hoffman used to describe the fare hikes last week.
“At the very least, the Ferry Co should be required to give notice in writing to the communities that it serves and that will be impacted by the rate increase,” she wrote.
But the biggest trade-off was FIA getting a seat at the table with Mooney, the ferry and water taxi company owner, “to explore issues of mutual interest concerning ferry operations, health and safety of the riding public, ferry scheduling, and federal and state regulatory mandates that may impact the cost of running the ferry operation.”
Mooney said he’ll give notice directly to FIA next time he asks the legislature for a fare hike and said he already meets with FI civic leaders “pretty regularly.”
“Nobody’s ever going to be happy about an increase in anything,” he said, joking that he doesn’t expect “welcome arms” for the next request.
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