Editorial: Rate hearing an opportunity to tackle lingering issues

Sun, 02/03/2013 - 4:31pm

The island is hugely dependant upon Interstate Navigation as the necessary lifeline to the mainland. The Block Island community continues to be grateful for the good neighbor policy the company has consistently practiced through the years.

That’s why we’re a bit taken aback by the manner in which Interstate has approached its recent rate hike proposal.

We don’t begrudge the company its due; and, once the case gets underway perhaps we’ll have a better grasp of the financial imperatives behind the proposal, but we do wonder about some of the ideas the company has put forward.

The commuter card is something the island residents have become accustomed to and value highly; it makes the constant back and forth that much more affordable for island residents — no small thing. Does the company really lose so much revenue through the commuter card arrangement that it is worth burdening the year-round island population with yet another onerous cost-of-living charge — adding to the many others on Block Island?

Also, at a time when we worry about an overabundance of vehicles here in the summer, why offer to make the car fare cheaper?

A rate hearing offers an opportunity to ask these questions. It also offers a chance for the interested parties to come together to address lingering issues. And it gives the town a chance to haggle, which we understand the town will try to do.

High on that list of issues is the ferry schedule. Over the years Interstate has tinkered with it, but we wonder if it may not be time to revisit the schedule, and the assumptions behind it, from top to bottom.

If we must give up the commuter card, then perhaps Interstate could offer a set winter schedule, one that doesn’t fluctuate so wildly and guarantees that island residents can travel to the mainland and back with sufficient time to take care of errands.  Also, how many of us have thrown our hands up in the air in Point Judith, realizing that the ferry is gone and you had the days mixed up? And, while we are accustomed to workers commuting to the island in the winter, there is less talk about island residents who could use a way to travel to the mainland to work for day, and back in the evening. With winter work becoming increasingly harder to find on the island, this option should be kept in mind.

And, speaking of cars, we know the bulk of them come on summer weekends when house rentals are turning over. We hear time and again about renters who have attempted in good faith to obtain car reservations to match their rentals only to be told, even in January, that they will have to go on standby — often forfeiting a day of their rental sitting in a parking lot. Indeed, island real estate agents have begun shifting the turnover days in an attempt to remedy this scheduling logjam.

If we accept that summer renters — and their cars (Interstate would win favor if they could somehow limit renter families to one) —  are an integral part of the island economy, and we know they’re coming, standby or not, why not simply run more ferries on those turnover days to make the system more efficient.

These are just a few thoughts. Let’s hope the town and Interstate take this opportunity to reach a deal that works for both sides of the ledger — and the customers on both sides of the route.