The state Department of Transportation Ferry Division will cut some ferry schedules this summer as it adjusts to budget constraints and increased federal staffing requirements. (3/19/9 update: Ocracokers say the cutback will hurt.)
The changes will affect tourists and fishermen who take the Pamlico Sound ferries to Ocracoke Island, and commuters who use the Cherry Branch - Minnesott Beach and Bayview - Aurora river ferries.
The Pamilco Sound toll ferry, which usually adds more runs for the busy summer season, will stay on its reduced winter schedule this year: four round trips daily (instead of the usual six) between Cedar Island and Ocracoke, and two trips (instead of four) between Swan Quarter and Ocracoke.
New Coast Guard rules are requiring the state to add two more employees to each ferry crew. For the largest, 220-foot-long ferries that cross Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke, the crew will increase from six to eight.
“It’s hard for us to swallow at a time we’re trying to cut the budget, much less to increase it,” said Jack Cahoon, the state ferry director.
Gov. Beverly Perdue’s proposed budget would fulfill the staffing requirement by adding 79 employees to the DOT Ferry Division — while it cuts the overall DOT budget by about $300 million a year, because of declining gas tax and other transportation revenues.
Meanwhile, to meet the new rules and comply with other federal requirements with its existing staff, DOT said today it will reduce some ferry schedules this summer.
The Cherry Branch ferry across the Neuse River serves commuters who work at Cherry Point Marine Air Station, and the Baview ferry across the Pamlico River serves employees at the PCS phosphate plant. Both schedules are slightly reduced.
The Hatteras-Ocracoke and Currituck-Knotts Island schedules will not change. Details are online
at www.ncferry.org or by phone at 1-800-293-3779.
For the state to keep its usual summer schedule, Cahoon said, the new federal rules would require an additional 74 ferry crew members and five shipyard workers to handle an increased inspection and maintenance schedule.
If the legislature approves the budget request, the normal summer schedule could resume in 2010, he said.