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Stop The Ferry Tax - 2013 Edition
Greg Piner Writes On How To Fight The Ferry Tolls
January 22, 2013

R
emember the old joke, “What is the best way to get elected officials to do what you ask? Ask them to do nothing”.

In the case of implementing tolls on our Cherry Branch/Minnesott Beach ferry that is exactly what the new legislature in Raleigh has to do. Nothing! Do nothing and come July 1, 2013 we start paying $4 a trip to take the ferry.

Greg Piner
I spent Wednesday afternoon with Harold Thomas, Director of NC Ferry Operations. Harold was very gracious with his time explaining what’s in store for us during the next few months. Here is an overview of my two hour visit.

The North Carolina Board of Transportation met on January 10, 2013. They were briefed by Paul Morris, Deputy Secretary for Transit at DOT. He stated that “Session Law 2011-145 and Session Law 2012-145 passed by the NC Legislature in July 2012 mandate, The Board of Transportation shall establish tolls for all ferry routes, except for the Ocracoke/Hatteras Ferry and the Knotts Island Ferry”. Following the presentation the Board of Transportation passed a resolution to adopt rules establishing ferry tolls.

Here are the rules as they pertain to us:

One-way Fares

  • Pedestrian $1.00
  • Bicycle $2.00
  • Motorcycle $3.00
  • Vehicle < 20ft $4.00
  • Vehicles 20ft to 40ft $8.00
  • Vehicle > 40ft $12.00

Kids 12 and under ride free. Ages 65 and up receive a 10% discount. Only emergency vehicles in emergency status are toll exempt.

Commuter Passes

  • Passenger / Pedestrian $25.00
  • Bicycle, Motorcycle and Vehicle < 20ft $150.00
  • Vehicle 20ft to 40ft $200.00
  • Vehicle > 40ft $250.00

Pass is valid for one year and for pass owner only. Age 65 and up receive 10% discount.

What does this mean for us?
Well, first I hope that the emergency vehicle in emergency status does not have to sound its siren the whole way across the river.

Second, commuter passes are only good for one individual. If you have a vehicle commuter pass and your spouse and children are in the car with you, they each have to pay a passenger toll of $1 per one-way trip or each buy a passenger commuter pass for $25/yr. If you own the vehicle pass and your spouse, or any of your children want to use your car to ride the ferry (without you in the car), they would have to pay the $4 toll each way. Bottom line, the yearly pass goes with the individual. A family of four licensed drivers who all use the ferry would have to buy four vehicle passes at a total cost of $600 per year to avoid paying the $4 per trip one-way toll.

Third, tolling commuter ferries was a very bad legislative decision in 2012, and it is a very bad legislative decision in 2013. Our ferry is our bridge. It has become a vital link for many individuals and small businesses on both sides of the river. It has been a huge economic success for our county. Why do our legislators consider it a right to drive over a bridge, but a privilege to ride a ferry? We pay highway taxes to support our entire state’s transportation needs. Why should a select few have to pay an additional tax to go to work, or school, or to the doctor?

Tolls make economic sense when many different vehicles make relatively few trips. On commuter ferries relatively few vehicles make many trips. To charge enough to pay for the overhead on a commuter ferry, people can’t afford to ride it. Charge a reasonable fee and the state gets no net revenue. The Ferry Division predicts that it will have to hire 8 employees to take up tolls at the Cherry Branch ferry, at an annual expense of almost $244,000. It is not unreasonable to estimate that for every dollar we pay the toll taker on the Cherry Branch ferry, 75 to 90% will be overhead, leaving between a quarter and a dime as net revenue. Our current legislators have promised to reduce waste and help small businesses. Tolling commuter ferries does just the opposite. It creates a wasteful government bureaucracy that unfairly taxes individuals and small businesses while generating almost no net revenue for the State.

What can we do?
We do not have the luxury, like our elected officials, to do nothing. We have to go to work and make sure our elected officials are actively working to stop this legislation. I would start with our new House Representative member, Michael Speciale. He was a vocal opponent of the ferry tolls at the February 15, 2012 DOT meeting at Pamlico Community College. His email is Michael.Speciale@ncleg.net. His phone numbers are 919-733-5853 and 252-635-5326. Email him, call him, and tell him to support the people who elected him.

What’s next?
Harold Thomas promised to send me a copy of a DOT economic impact statement just completed on the effects of tolls on commuter ferries. It is due out next week. Harold also said he thinks there will be a DOT meeting to discuss the ferry tolls in our area in February or March. More to come.