Council requests info on adding a ferry trip

From Interstate for the off-season
Thu, 02/07/2019 - 5:45pm

The New Shoreham Town Council is requesting Interstate Navigation look into the viability of adding a round-trip to its schedule for Tuesdays and/or Wednesdays during the winter, and to also possibly shift the Sunday trips to Block Island an hour later in the day to make them more convenient for residents. The council is asking for scheduling, cost and viability information related to the proposed new schedule.

Interstate Navigation currently offers one boat trip in each direction on Tuesdays and Wednesdays: a 10 a.m. ferry from Point Judith, and a 2:30 p.m. trip from Block Island. A new run, if proved viable, would be added to the Tuesday and/or Wednesday schedule between Thanksgiving and the middle of April.

Councilor Chris Willi made the motion to ask for the information. The motion also requested that Interstate shift its Sunday winter schedule so that the first trip from Pt. Judith leaves at noon instead of 11 a.m. and the last boat would leave at 5 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. The departures from Block Island would also be moved back an hour to 2 and 6:30 p.m.

“As far as the Sunday boat, I don’t think that’s a big ask,” said Willi.

Willi said the question of another round-trip in the winter “keeps coming up. Why can’t we have more boats on Tuesdays and Wednesdays?” He said the council would have to see if adding another boat is “viable,” and how much of a ticket increase there would be for that particular trip. “It’s going to affect the ticket price,” he said. “That’s the reality.”

This is the proposal that the Council agreed to at a joint meeting with Interstate Navigation representatives last month. Interstate asked that the council put together a proposal that Interstate could answer directly.

“What the council agreed to do was provide them (Interstate Navigation) with a proposed schedule,” so they could “give us a ballpark number of how it would affect our ticket prices, so we can all wrap our heads around it, and see if it’s worth it,” said Willi. “Is it worth the extra three bucks a ticket — hypothetically — for an extra boat on Tuesday and Wednesday?”

First Warden Ken Lacoste said a suggestion was made at a previous meeting that a boat be eliminated from Interstate’s busy summer season schedule to offset the cost of adding another ferry during the winter months.

Councilor Martha Ball said she didn’t believe Interstate would be running the boats during the summer if they weren’t making money. “That’s not how they operate.” She said it might work if Interstate added another boat on one of the days and not the other.

Second Warden André Boudreau said the request of Interstate should involve “the ability to leave the island early in the morning on Tuesday and Wednesday and come back later in the day.” He said that would mean “a round-trip boat on Tuesday and Wednesday. And maybe a 5:30 p.m. boat on Sunday coming back to the island. So when everybody’s away for the weekend they don’t have to rush to make the 4 p.m. boat. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”

Tourism Director Jessica Willi, who was in attendance, felt the Sunday request would be “okay.” She noted that Interstate doesn’t like “to extend their day, because then they have to extend their staff,” which adds to cost. “So if you can just shift it all, and keep the same number of hours in the day, and give us a later boat (from Pt. Judith) on Sunday back to the island, that would be helpful.”

“On Tuesdays and Wednesdays you’re talking about adding more hours to the day,” said Jessica Willi. “So you’re talking about a lot more staff” to run those trips. She suggested asking the community if it would be worth it to pay a higher ticket price for having a round-trip ferry available on Tuesdays and/or Wednesdays. Hypothetically, she said, “Your ticket could be $16 round-trip instead of $13 round-trip. Do you want it, or not?”

Legislative agenda

In other news, the Town Council voted unanimously to draft a resolution to renew a push for an exemption from Rhode Island state law to prevent ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft from operating on Block Island. Lacoste made the motion that was seconded by Boudreau. Ball was recused because she owns a taxi service.

The council voted unanimously to support an amendment to Rhode Island General Law calling for the $1.5 million of interconnection costs incurred by National Grid for the Block Island Wind Farm’s operation to to be spread among ratepayers throughout Rhode Island. Lacoste made the motion that was seconded by Boudreau.

The council voted unanimously (4-0) to update a resolution to introduce and support legislation amending the Comprehensive Housing Production and Rehabilitation Act of 2004 to expand the eligibility pool for affordable housing on Block Island. In a letter to State Sen. Susan Sosnowski and State Rep. Blake Filippi, the council noted that the reason for the resolution is to allow for New Shoreham residents who earn up to 140 percent of median income to be eligible for affordable housing.

The median price of a single-family home on Block Island is $1,075,000, and the median household income is $73,952. The letter stated that: “The New Shoreham Town Council recognizes median income and median house price on Block Island are so far apart that working people in New Shoreham, even those who make more than 120 percent of median, and up to 140 percent of median, cannot afford to purchase a home.”

The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.