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Ocracoke Commissioner Tom Pahl weighs in on ferry study

Staff report

A study ordered last year by the N.C. General Assembly and released Monday says the N.C. Ferry Division could save $1.5 million by reducing off-season crossings and could raise $1.7 million though fare hikes. The bulk of the savings would come from dropping 12 daily crossings for the Hatteras-Ocracoke route.

To read about the study specifics, click here.

The Ocracoke Observer reached out to elected officials for their views on the report.

The following is from Ocracoke’s County Commissioner, Tom Pahl.

Ocracoke Commissioner Tom Pahl. Photo: Peter Vankevich

“There is good reason for concern about the news on the proposed changes to ferry operations. But first, some background:  This is in reference to a study and subsequent report prepared by the Program Evaluation Division (PED).  The study was ordered by the state legislature and was intended to provide a broad overview of operational efficiency of the N.C. Ferry Division.  The study was not just of the Ocracoke ferries, but system wide, though certainly Ocracoke is a key piece of that.

A team of researchers has been working on this for some time and they held a public meeting here, at the Berkley Manor, several months ago.  

Another study recommended

“The primary recommendation in the report is that the legislature should direct the Ferry Division to conduct their own study focused on the recommendations they (PED) proposed.  That is, reducing ferry runs during off season and increasing passenger fares on already-tolled routes. So, to be clear, the study concluded that there should be another study—this time to be conducted by the Ferry Division.

“The PED recommended that the Ferry Division put together a committee for this purpose and they suggested the membership of that committee should include local government representatives from counties with ferry operations.  Clearly, if the process goes forward as the PED recommends, Ocracoke would have a seat at the table. 

“That’s the good news.

“The bad news is: whenever the Legislature looks at ways to increase revenue and/or reduce costs in ferry operations, they always think up ways to cause us grief.  It’s predictable, considering the large percentage of the total ferry service that comes and goes from Ocracoke. 

Ferry Division budget a fraction of the total NCDOT budget

“But, once again, it’s worth keeping in mind—and the PED study says this at the beginning of their report:  The Ferry Division represents about 1.1 percent of the total NCDOT budget!  And the savings/revenue they are hoping to find might amount to something short of 10 percent of the Ferry Division’s budget.  Do the math. That is roughly one tenth of one percent of the whole NCDOT budget!  Of course, the NCDOT budget is greater than the military budget of a lot of small countries.  The Ukraine, for instance.

“This will likely be a subject at the Waterways Commission meeting on Monday (Jan. 29) at 5:30 p.m. in the Community Center.  (A meeting with Ferry Division officials is scheduled for 3 p.m. the same day, also in the Community Center.)

Community response needed

“I will suggest that we hold a special working meeting the following week to put some heads together to formulate a response.  I expect we will write a letter addressed to key legislators and work with County Manager Bill Rich and our lobbyists on the message and its delivery.

“If you have questions or comments, feel free to attend the Waterways meeting, or contact me. 

“P.S.: I’m opposed to the “bridge” solution.  Just not ready to join Kitty Hawk and KDH.”

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