Editorial: Ferry Fees

We know that there is a controversy about the ferry fees out there, and we are occasionally pressed for comment.  So here are my thoughts:

We have all been hit hard by the economic downturn.  Everyone is trying to do more with less, and that is frustrating. Sadly, it also has the capacity to make everyone look around and see if we are getting our share of resources or paying more than our share of the burden.  While this is normal, it can fracture communities.  The issue of how we pay for the ferry has become clouded with other issues of residency, usage, and island priorities.  The wording of the new policy was close enough to the old policy that many of us didn’t notice the changes until recently.  I am sure that the INTENT of the new policies was not to make anyone feel like a second class citizen. We are all frustrated by the new economic realities, and that makes the discussion much more heated. We now have a choice– we can keep pointing fingers or we can pull together as a community to solve the problem.  We have a lot of smart people with good ideas.  And we’re not going to get anywhere if we are all only looking at the situation from a defensive place.

One main question about the situation is:  Is this a budget issue or a usage issue?  For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that the ferry can handle the load of riders and that this is a budget issue.  There may be usage– and overusage– concerns, but lets tackle them after we take care of the budgetary ones.

In that case, the real question is how do we raise the revenues needed to cover the cost.  The new fees are one way of addressing that issue.  But there may be other ideas about how to address that issue as well– in fact, we’ve seen some really good ones come across our desks.  And that’s what we recommend– throw your ideas on the table without emotion.  Send them to the board. Nicely. Recognize that the board members are volunteers trying to make our island the best place it can be.  Even the best of policies have unintended consequences that might  warrant rethinking.  You can even post positive suggestions here– enter them as comments (mine is below).

12 thoughts on “Editorial: Ferry Fees

  1. First– all the scenarios on the table continue to redivide the costs of the ferry among the same set of people– island owners… because that is who the POA has billing relationships with. Let’s figure out how to share the burden with more people. Sounds inhospitable, right? If I visit a friend in downtown Charleston or Manhattan, I wouldn’t dream of having them foot the bill for my parking, or my gas. If you visited a friend on Bald Head Island, they wouldn’t be paying for your ferry ticket. And nobody is going to say, “umm, I have to pay 4 dollars for you today, so could you fork that over before you get on the boat?” So let’s figure out a way to allow our friends and distant family members, who love our island as much as we do, to purchase their own rides on the boat.

    * We could install a machine like the public transit systems have in NY or DC, or even the IOP parking area. Guests purchase a round trip ticket on the Isle of Palms, hand it to the mate. There could be some sort of paid status checkbox under the new ferry system which tells the mate that they can leave the island. [getting access for permission
    * We allow a discount for ferry passes purchased on an annual basis. It is like joining a museum– an unlimited access pass costs x dollars for the year. A bonus of this strategy is that the island gets all the money for annual passes up front. Which means that I would calculate my own potential ridership and either buy a pass or not. This is the suggestion I passed on to the board in September. (Another bonus of this is that happy feeling you get when you are a member of the museum not being nickel-and-dimed.) And I have tested and tested the new system- it would be pretty easy to have all unlimited pass members listed on the main page. In addition, less staff time would be spent billing regular riders with an annual pass. Since the new system is based on individual identity on the computer, a pass would be non-transferrable.
    * Riders could also purchase a pass for a week or a month. If you had guests or renters, they could buy an access pass for a week, and then feel more comfortable going out to dinner without a surcharge.
    * Setting this up without paper tickets should be pretty easy. Most of the technology is out there to do this… without much hassle. And any extra processing time by the staff should be WAY offset by the lack of billing necessary for the pay ahead tickets.
    * Instead of getting billed AFTER the fact, which easily creates resentment and grumbling, we pay ahead of time and forget it. The bill is more predictable because we have paid most of it ahead of time. We keep using the ferry the way we always have been, contributing to our sense of community and our green ethos of “public transportation.” We allow our partnership share community members and our regular guests to be a seamless part of the fabric of our community without feeling like second class citizens. And we may even make good money up front. It turns what may be seen as a negative into a positive, and provides everyone a chance to feel like they are getting a deal.

  2. Billing the POA members and asking them to seek reimbursement makes for unnecessarily awkward situations and administrative hassles. So many of us just eat the cost.

    Getting more people — visitors — to contribute to the system will reduce the burden on the POA members. That’s how parking works in Charleston.

    I whole-heartedly support Judy’s proposal.

  3. Here’s a suggestion I heard on the ferry:

    During the off season and predictably off peak times, particularly in January, February and early March and late on week nights, only run the Aggie Gray for the peak runs at the being and end of the day.

    The rest of the time run the Parker.

    The Parker is the emergency boat. It or a similar 6-Pack boat has the following advantages:

    1. It can be piloted by a single captain without a crew member so long as there 6 or fewer passengers. This is known as 6-Pack license under Coast Guard regulations. This saves staff costs.
    2. It’s much faster. It can make the run in about 10 minutes. In the unlikely event that there are more than 6 people seeking a ferry ride during those off peak months, it can make extra runs in the same amount of time.
    3. The Parker sits 99% of the time. Like any piece of machinery, it runs better when used regularly. Right now, the public safety staff runs it just to make sure it will work in an emergency. Using the Parker as an off peak ferry, would eliminate the extra cost of the maintenance runs.
    4. It is quieter than the Dewees Lady. The Parker was used as the back up ferry last year when the Aggie Gray and Deweees Lady were both down. It worked well.
    5. We already own it. We don’t have to buy anything else. The Sea Arc can be used as the emergency boat when the Parker is in service as a ferry.

  4. Any system where all people, owners, or guests, pay the same if fine with me. A single fee at the beginning of the year is fine and stop monitoring use. Or a single fee that comes with a set number of rides, over which you pay per ride if fine.
    A system where everyone pays the same for every ride is fine also.
    Just keep the intent to pay for the ferry, not to privilege or discriminate classes of people (owners, full time, renters…,).
    Mixing in usage issues and controls of usage is where the board created hard feelings– at least for me.
    I think a single fee from each owner is likely necessary since it must be paid for in reliable amounts prospectively and a pay as you go system may create budget problems, particularly since most costs are fixed and income from ticket sales would vary.
    A bit of creative thinking and we can restore the sense that we are looking our for each other’s interests as well as our own.
    I am hoping the board has a reverse gear and will be sensitive to how divisive this is.

  5. I’m in agreement 100% with Jeff. A fair solution can be found.

    I haven’t totally thought it out but the solution that appears to make the most sense to me is to treat the ferry like a necessary bridge and a toll road at the same time. Through the POA dues, all lots are given a specified amount of round trips. the owner can use these trips as he sees fit. Once a lot uses up its allocated trips, a per trip fee is assessed.

    This arrangement would need some tweaking and some details would need to be ironed out, but in principal, it would accomplish two very important goals: 1) Lot owners who seldom use the ferry would still share in the expense of the ferry as a “bridge”, to cover the fixed costs of the island (staff transport, etc.). At the same time, revenue can be generated by frequent users who should pay for that privilige.

  6. I recommend that the ferry be funded in two ways: operational costs and capital improvement costs.

    I believe the OPERATIONAL costs of the ferry should be covered by a ticket that every rider pays. Hopefully it will be a low enough price that all owners, guests, staff, and contracted workers will learn to accept it as the price of visiting a barrier island. The operational costs of staff, fuel, etc should be divided by the total number of one-way trips last year. That per trip price, rounded up to the nearest quarter should be the ticket price. The ferry operational budget should be reimbursed for very single rider.

    There should be no “free” rides. If the ferry is to be fairly paid for, then every passenger (over age 2) must pay a share. The only discount should be if there is a transaction fee savings with credit card companies. With the ferry as a separate budget business, even staff trips will need to be paid into the ferry account.

    I believe the CAPITAL improvements and MAJOR ferry maintenance should be paid for as part of the island’s capital improvement budget that is spread evenly across each lot. Our beloved barrier island must have a ferry, so it is only fair that those capital expenses be paid by each property owner.

    I thought it was wise and effective to implement the “On-Call or On-Demand” process to eliminate some wasted fuel and operational expense. Based on historic data, if it is logical and viable to use the Parker Emergency Boat, Tuesday-Thursday, on months when the ferry usage is low, then that will too would reduce the Operational Costs, and will probably be appreciated by most.

  7. I am excited about all of the comments made on the use and expenses of operating The Ferry to and from Dewees.

    I like Julie Vann’s suggestions of separting the operating cost vs the captital improvement costs.

    I also like Reggie’s idea of using the Parker for less than 6 passengers.

    I am very pleased with using the Ferry on demand from Dewees.

    I hope the POA Board is willing to re-look at this problem and come up with a more equitable solution for the cost of running the ferry.

  8. As a non owner but frequent visitor to the amazing resource that is Dewees, I would welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Island Community by paying for my ferry trips directly.

    There are lots of options, and I am in favor of including the annual pass (with a maximum number of trips) as one of the options. I would love to pay once and forget about it! I think having a weekly or monthly pass would also provide flexibility to visitors who don’t get to visit as often.

    Thanks to all who work to make Dewees such a special place!

  9. When we bought on Dewees back in 1995, the ferry was described to us as the “highway” to the island. We bought into that and still believe this will be the case until we build a bridge connecting us to the mainland (and how likely is that to happen?).

    The ferry is simply necessary overhead. It doesn’t matter if you use it once a year or every day, it is a necessity for the island to exist. Consequently, all owners must share in its expense. Our house, your house or your lot is worth nothing without the ferry; therefore, we all are responsible for funding it.

    Each site (be it house or lot) should be charged an equal amount as we’re all in this boat together. So, we should just bite bullet and get on with enjoying the island.

  10. To All:

    We elected to buy on Dewees in 1995. At that time and throughout the years, our understanding was that the ferry added equally to the value of all properties on the island by insuring access. Consequently, the burden of the ferry cost would be born equally by home and lot owners alike, regardless of their “status” as partners, full time residents or occasional island visitors.

    We’d like to see the cost of the ferry treated as overhead and included in the POA dues or give each home and lot “x” number of trips – if you exceed the allotted number of annual trips, then the “per trip” fee kicks in.

    We appreciate all of the time and effort that the POA board commits to running the island. We are glad to have this forum to express our concerns and hope we can come to a more equitable solution.

    Shanon & Pat Wilson

  11. Lots of great suggestions here. If we view this as an opportunity, it seems to me that it could serve as a catalyst for strengthening island esprit d’corps. Let’s do try to keep this a positive team-building enterprise. The people on the board are our friends and neighbors, and they’re giving countless hours for the good of the island. If we can come together in a spirit of mutual respect, lots more good “stuff” caould emerge.

  12. Thank you Judy for the thought and time you put into this complicated question. You have some fresh and original ideas that seem well thought out.

    And thanks for the format that has allowed opportunity for comment. There are some good suggestions here.

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