BLOCK ISLAND – Passenger ticket prices on the Block Island Ferry could increase beginning this Memorial Day.
Interstate Navigation, the company that operates the Block Island Ferry recently filed a request with state regulators to raise passenger ticket prices by about 8 percent in the coming year on traditional “slow” ferries to account for rising fuel costs and upgrades to its fleet.
The New London, Conn.-based company would also eliminate a same-day travel discount and a discount for Block Island residents, but it plans to offer significantly lower rates to transport vehicles.
Interstate Navigation operates the main ferry service connecting Block Island to the mainland with both traditional and fast ferries to Point Judith and Newport. The company is now facing competition from other companies offering ferry services to Block Island from New London and Long Island.
“I understand why we had to spend significant dollars improving our vessels and terminals in order to compete in this tourist-driven market,” Joshua Linda, vice president of Interstate Navigation said in his Nov. 27 testimony to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission. “Our recent efforts have been directed toward entering the fast ferry market, which is something for which our summer tourist customers have shown a clear preference.”
Interstate Navigation is requesting that adult passenger ticket prices for those traveling between Point Judith and Block Island increase by 95 cents from $11.25 one-way to $12.20. Round trip tickets will increase from $18.30 to $24.40. One-way tickets for children will also increase from $5.70 to $6.15, as will round-trip tickets from $9.10 to $12.35.
However, rates for vehicular transport between Point Judith and Block Island will decrease substantially according to the proposal. Rates for cars will decrease from $49.80 to $32.70 and rates for pick-up trucks, vans and SUVs will decrease from $60.10 to $39.45.
This summer, the company also plans to discontinue the traditional ferry operating between Newport and Block Island and Newport, which is for passengers only, and replace it with a fast ferry. The company then hopes to sell the traditional ferry to finance additional improvements to the fast ferry. Tickets for the new service would cost $25 each way.
Walter Edge Jr., a certified public accountant and vice president of B and E Consulting, also testified on behalf of Interstate Navigation.
“For the last four years Interstate’s traditional service has lost almost $500,000 per year from its own operations,” Edge said as another reason for the ticket price increase.
Edge also explained the reason for eliminating the ferry discount for Block Island residents. Previously, residents paid $10.50 for an adult round-trip ticket while non-residents paid $18.30 for a same day round-trip ticket.
“From a cost allocation rate setting point of view Islanders should not get this discount,” Edge said in his testimony. “It costs no more or less to sell Islanders a ticket and carry them on the vessel than it costs for any other passenger.”
However, while the Block Island resident discount may be eliminated, Interstate Navigation is proposing weekday discounts of up to 25 percent on passenger and vehicle ticket prices during the peak months of May through September to encourage use of the ferry during off-peak days.
The company is requesting that the new rates go into effect beginning Memorial Day of 2013. If approved, the rate changes would increase the company’s revenue by $1.3 million, or about 13 percent.
Interstate Navigation’s current rates were determined by a five-year rate plan in 2007, which was later extended to six years, expiring Dec. 31, 2012. As part of that plan, rates were frozen for the first two years and rate increases were restricted in the following four years. This is the first rate filing in approximately seven years.