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By Connie Leinbach
Longtime N.C. Ferry Division employee Harold Thomas is the new director of this sub-agency of the N.C. Dept. of Transportation.
Thomas, along with Jed Dixon, who was interim director and resumes his former position as deputy director, and Chris Bock, District One superintendent of operations at the Hatteras terminal, was on the island Monday for the monthly Ferry Division meeting with islanders.
Monday was Thomas’s first day as director of a job he had held from 2011 to 2014 when he was demoted by former Gov. Pat McCrory to one of two deputy director positions in favor of Ed Goodwin whom McCrory had appointed director in April of 2014. Goodwin departed Jan. 31.
Thomas, of Newport, plans to visit the island on Thursday to talk to as many people as he can.
“I want to do a lot of listening,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of great ideas over here and I want to soak up some of that knowledge.”
He wants to determine how the division can improve.
“How do we meet our needs and your needs as a department?” he said.
His first focus will be customer service, he said–from the time they pull up to the dock to when they load off the boats.
He also said he will look at the shoulder season schedules knowing that Ocracoke School’s athletic teams travel to away games then and need to get back to the island, often catching the midnight ferry.
He will look at adding later runs from Cedar Island to Ocracoke in the off-season for those islanders who travel that way for doctors and other reasons so that they can return the same day. While the summer long-route Cedar Island schedule includes evening departures, the fall and winter season departures end around 4 p.m. making it virtually impossible for islanders to visit doctors in Morehead City and return the same day.
“It’s an endeavor that’s forever changing,” Thomas said about the ferry system.
Thomas has worked in the division for 25 years, having started at the bottom in 1993 in an entry-level general utility worker, then as an engineer and also as a deputy director.
“I’ve enjoyed my career in the Ferry Division,” he said.
As for other concerns, Dixon noted that since the power crisis July 27 to Aug. 4, the traffic at the Hatteras terminal has dropped considerably.
“Our April and May were the best we’ve ever had,” he said. “June was better than last year. July was about the same until the power outage.”
He noted that on the busiest days, they have been moving the cars well and thought it was due to travelers getting the message to arrive early or later in the day, not at midday.
“Even on the very busy days, we were moving (the cars),” Dixon said.
He also said they have been working on contacting bus companies that bring school children to the island in the spring for school trips about their using the upcoming passenger ferry instead of the vehicle ferries.
“Those buses can take up an entire ferry,” he said.
As for the passenger ferry, Dixon said that Armstrong Marine Inc. in Swansboro, who received the contract to build a 98-passenger, catamaran-style boat, is still on track to deliver the new boat by the end of April or in May.
He said the Ferry Division has a supplemental work contract with HMS Global, a company that is operating a new passenger ferry service between the boroughs in New York City, to operate the passenger ferries at the outset.
Dixon said summer tours of the division’s shipyard in Manns Harbor, located on the western bank of the Croatan Sound, approximately eight miles from Manteo, have been popular for both locals and vacationers and the next four scheduled tours are full.
“They gain a better appreciation of what it takes to keep the Ferry Division going,” Dixon said.
“It’s another way to connect to the people throughout the region,” Thomas said.