The Ocracoke Express passenger ferry in Ocracoke’s Silver Lake. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Sam Walker, WOBX. Reprinted by permission

What appears to be persistent mechanical issues with the state-owned passenger ferry that runs during the summer between Hatteras and Ocracoke villages has cropped up, and the Ocracoke Express will not be running until further notice.

The passenger ferry service was created to alleviate summertime congestion on the popular Hatteras-Ocracoke vehicle ferry route.

“The Passenger ferry has an issue with the starboard hydraulic steering pump,” said NCDOT spokesperson Tim Hass. “Hatteras Field Maintenance has been working on the issue, but they haven’t been able to resolve the issue as of right now.”

According to an alert from the N.C. Department of Transportation sent Thursday morning, all departures on the passenger ferry have been canceled until further notice.

Wednesday afternoon’s passenger runs were canceled, and the passenger ferry had been unable to run several days over the last two weeks.

Funding issues at NCDOT have also been to blame for the vehicle ferries having to operate on the shoulder-season schedule, with departures from each side only hourly, rather than the usual departures every half hour used in previous summers.

Vessels are also kept on stand-by to meet vehicular demand with additional runs as needed.

Those issues have spurred huge outcry from Ocracoke residents and businesses, including a float in this year’s Independence Day parade.

Originally scheduled to be completed in 2018, the construction of the Ocracoke passenger ferry encountered multiple delays, and the NCDOT leased a vessel for its first three seasons of operation, beginning in 2019.

The vessel owned by the state and launched last year is a 100-passenger, catamaran-style ferry with 96 interior seats, an upper deck with 26 additional seats, two wheelchair tie-downs, 16 bicycle racks, wireless internet access, and a concession area.

The trip between Hatteras Harbor and Silver Lake Harbor takes about 70 minutes where a free tram operated by Hyde County is available to carry anyone around the village to shops, restaurants, accommodations and attractions.

The passenger ferry service performed well last year, with more than 25,000 people having used the Ocracoke Express that operated between May 17 and Sept. 29.

That included a roughly week-long period around the end of July when problems with the electrical and propulsion system cropped up.

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