Jenny Scarborough

No one spoke in favor of increased ferry fees; most referred to the increase as an unfair tax.

The March 13 public comment meeting, hosted by NCDOT, filled the bleachers in Ocracoke's school gym. In 2011, the NC legislature mandated that NCDOT generate $5 million annually by tolling ferry routes. Political wrangling in 2012 kept the tolls from being enacted. New and higher tolls are now due to go into effect July 1, 2013, "if nothing changes," said Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed Dixon.

Proposed costs for passenger cars on the Pamlico Sound routes would go from $15 for a one way trip to $27. System wide passes will cost $500 for cars under 20 feet, and $700 annually for delivery vehicles.

Members of the public said the legislation is "regressive," "unfair," and poorly conceived. Most called for an elimination of tolls altogether, pointing out that the ferry system itself is an economic driver for North Carolina.

A Ferry is a Road is a Ferry
Click image to see how NC ferries make for great vacations!

Ferries contribute over $325 million to the state's tourist economy, said island business owner Frank Brown. There have been no economic impact studies conducted on how the fees will effect visitor spending. $5 million is a miniscule amount, less than .01% of the NCDOT annual budget. "It is deplorable to raise $5 million from already distressed coastal communities," said Brown.

Representative Paul Tine plans to introduce legislation next week that would abolish the fees. Follow the link to contact him.

Clayton Gaskill pointed out that 60 years ago, state and federal governments provided little infrastructure to help people reach Ocracoke, and many families, like his, moved away from the island because there were no jobs here.

Kids can no longer fish, but they can be in the tourist industry, said Hyde County Manager Bill Rich. If visitors quit using route 264 to reach Ocracoke via mainland Hyde, "We're dead," he observed.

"We all know what raising that toll is going to do to this community," said Rudy Austin, who grew up on the island. "Ferries enable us to have the community we do today. Believe me, it was not a pleasant time when we mainly had passenger boats. People had to leave to get jobs."

The roads and ferries maintained by NC DOT are "the lifeline for our economy, and sometimes literally," said newcomer Tom Pahl, who has lived on the island for ten years. We choose to live here, and pay our gas taxes when we drive 100 miles to the nearest big box stores, he said. His conclusion drew spontaneous, loud applause: "There is no free ferry. We already pay for that ferry."

Revenues from North Carolina's 37.5 cent per gallon fuel tax are sufficient, said a member of the Ocracoke Working Watermen's Association. "Money collected for transportation should be spent for transportation," she said. "We shouldn't have any tolls whatsoever."

Many characterized the ferry as our highway, and said boats should not be treated differently than other parts of the road system.

Pamlico County resident Greg Piner rode a NC ferry to work and back for 33 years. He and his wife made a trip to Raleigh earlier in the week to protest the tolls. Piner praised the efforts of Ocracoke residents to represent their interests in the state capital. "We're all in this together. It's not Pamlico versus Hyde," he said.

"This taxes people to go to work and to leave their house," said Piner. The state could better increase revenues by eliminating all tolls and encouraging ridership and travel within the region. Ferry Division Director Harold Thomas is upstanding, said Piner. "Our problem is with the legislature of North Carolina." Piner lays it out in this column from

"Make it a $500 to $1000 fee for all the residents in North Carolina so they can feel what I feel. I have to pay to leave and come back? This is wrong," said Ocracoke resident Benji Hart, pointing out that NC Highway 12 to the north is frequently impassable.

Not only businesses and residents will feel the pinch. Hyde County School Superintendent Dr. Randolph Lattimore said his department estimates new tolls will cost the Board of Education over $10,000 a year. "This is an unbudgeted cost we've never had to pay in the past," he said. The fees will act as "a disservice to Hyde County students. This needs to be strongly reconsidered."

All county agencies, divided by the Swan Quarter ferry, would have increased travel budgets. "If we don't exempt our county departments, this could seriously bankrupt Hyde," said Megan Shaw, who noted the fees will also raise islanders costs for basic services, medicine, groceries, and other supplies.

"The problem came from Raleigh, and the solution will come from Raleigh," said consulting lobbyist Henri McClees. Link here to find out how to contact your elected officials.

The public comment period will be open until March 28. "Written comments carry the same weight as verbal," said Jamille Robbins. Comments may be submitted to Robbins by mail (NC DOT, 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, 27699-1598) or email to, or