Are Faster Ferries Our Future?

Sundae Horn
Dreamboat or reality?
Dreamboat or reality?
This is in no way intended to represent the type of boat the ferry division may purchase. This photo was the first that came up in a Google images search for high-speed passenger ferries. There were many more options!

“It would take a culture change,” said NCDOT ferry division director Ed Goodwin.

Goodwin has requested that the ferry division do a feasibility study on passenger-only ferries. These would be smaller and faster than the lumbering boats we have now, and would possibly carry visitors all the way from the Hatteras ferry landing to the ferry docks in Silver Lake harbor on Ocracoke.

"We've got the parking space [at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum] and the ferry docks in Silver Lake," he said. Goodwin thinks the feasibility study would show good feasibility with those two necessities already in place.

“We could put 150 people on a fast ferry and put them in Silver Lake where they don’t need a car,” he said, referring to Ocracoke Village’s walkability, not to mention the golf carts, scooters, and bikes ready to rent.

Goodwin thinks many visitors would choose to leave their cars behind on Hatteras if they could get to Ocracoke faster. Facing a three-hour wait to take your vehicle over on a slow boat versus a 40-minute ride to the village that you can board right away – which would you choose?

If you’re coming with a week’s worth of luggage or fishing gear, or you just want your car with you, by all means ride the traditional ferry. But for those daytrippers who want a fun ferry ride and a day in the village, why not skip the long wait in a hot parking lot?

Given that “we won’t live long enough to see a bridge to Ocracoke,” and “we’re just one storm away from South Dock [the Ocracoke side of the Hatteras-Ocracoke route] being compromised, if it’s hit just right,” Goodwin thinks that the ferry division needs to looks at all its options. He envisions using the passenger-only ferries in the off-season to make trips to and from inland towns such as Edenton. He would also like to see the ferry terminal in Swan Quarter get more traffic. 

“We need to make a plan now,” he said. “If someone has another idea, I want to hear it.”

If Ocracoke wants to consider fast passenger ferries, Goodwin wants the people of Ocracoke to say so.

“Hyde County has to have a heavy input in that decision,” he said. “They need to get involved and tell us what they want.”

So what does Hyde County think?

“It’s a fantastic idea,” said county manager Bill Rich. “It would be the answer to the entire problem of getting daytrippers over here.”

Bill also pointed out the huge potential savings for the ferry division’s budget.

“The passenger ferries can carry 150 people at a time and they cost only $2.5 million,” he said. “It’s a great alternative to the $18 million it costs for a new sound class ferry.”

Commissioner John Fletcher agrees that it's "something that should be looked at." His only concern is for the ferry division to maintain something close to the current schedule – residents need the car ferries to run regularly and often so they can get off the island to shop and go to doctor's appointments. John is also a fan of 3-wheeled bicycles and thinks they should be provided free for anyone who wants to ride one around the village. 

Hyde County Transit recently applied for a grant (and they are top-rated to get it) to revive the Ocracoke trolley concept. The trolley system could be used to move people around the village (or even out to the beach) once the high-speed passenger ferries brought them here.

As part of the grant process Hyde County Transit has to do surveys, sending people out to knock on the windows of people waiting in line at Hatteras. The gist of their questions boils down to "Would you park and ride?" and 84% said yes. And the majority were willing to pay $5 or more for the opportunity. Bill shared the complete results of the survey with the Current here

A decade ago, when a trolley system was being planned, the idea was for visitors to leave their cars in a parking lot somewhere up near the Pony Pens, and board a trolley to the village. The impetus behind it was to relieve congestion and parking issues in the "downtown" area of the island. But that congestion has already been somewhat relieved by golf carts, and our problems with daytrippers are not that they can't find a place to park, but that the day they spend on the island is cut short by long ferry lines. 

Bill agrees with Goodwin’s assessment that the time is right to talk about new alternatives.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” Bill said. “I haven’t talked to anyone with any opposition to passenger-only ferries. It will be the beginning of the future.”

Goodwin says he will continue to advocate for the ferry system in Raleigh. “I haven’t been told to stand down yet,” he said.      




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