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The state Department of Transportation is steaming ahead with plans to end free rides on two of its coastal ferries, and to charge sharply higher fares on three other ferries, starting in April. [Update: see 1/11/12 story with reader comments.]
“We want to present this to the public and let them weigh in on it,” said Ted Vaden, a deputy DOT secretary.
DOT officials will decide how high to set tolls for individual vehicles, whether to start adding charges for each vehicle passenger, and how much to charge for an annual commuter pass.
The legislature last year ordered DOT to increase ferry revenues by $2.5 million a year (correction posted 11:45am 1/5/11), and to start collecting tolls on two river ferries, now toll-free, that are used heavily by coastal commuters: the Neuse River ferry from Cherry Branch to Minnesott Beach, and the Pamlico River ferry from Bayview to Aurora.
CDM Smith, a consulting firm hired by DOT, listed four menus of options, including yearly commuter passes that could range from $150 to $500 for the Neuse and Pamlico ferries and for the Cape Fear River ferry from Southport to Fort Fisher.
Tolls for individual cars on the river ferries could range between $4 and $12, depending on whether car passengers were charged $1 or $2 apiece.
Much higher tolls are likely for the two-hour ferries to Ocracoke across Pamlico Sound from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island, where the current rate is $15 for a car and $150 for a commuter pass.
Suggested options include $5 per car passenger and a per-car toll of $25 to $27 for the Pamlico Sound ferries, or no charge for passengers and a per-car rate of $30 to $33. Bigger increases are suggested for trucks and large vehicles.
The one-year commuter pass for the Pamlico Sound ferries could be set anywhere from $300 to $500, Smith suggested.
The Southport ferry toll could rise from $5 to $10 or $12 per car, with a possible $2 passenger fare and a commuter pass for $200 to $500.
The legislature agreed last year to keep two routes toll-free: the Knotts Island ferry across Currituck Sound, and the busy Hatteras-to-Ocracoke ferry.
DOT will solicit public comment online and at four public hearings scheduled later this month: Jan. 18 in Swan Quarter, Jan. 19 in Washington, N.C., Jan. 30 in Morehead City and Jan. 31 in Southport.