Suffolk County Legislature Approves Request to Increase Fire Island Ferry Rates

A public hearing regarding the Fire Island Ferries company operated out of Bay Shore was held at the Suffolk County Legislature Meeting on Wednesday, June 22. Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffery introduced the public hearing “regarding the authorization of the alteration of the existing passenger and freight rates for the Fire Island Ferries.” President and owner of the ferry company, Tim Mooney, was present to answer questions and present his case. In the end, the request for a $2 passenger rate increase was approved by the county legislature.

Immediately preceding this hearing there was another one proposing the increase of the water taxi rates. That request was approved as well. In both instances, Mooney made his case for a rate increase while legislatures asked questions that both supported the increase and challenged the idea, taking the concerns of residents into consideration.

From the start, Mooney made it clear that it was not his intention to increase rates, but that the inflation on fuel costs has made it necessary. He explained that the average cost of fuel was $1.80 per gallon last year, while it currently sits around $5.10.

The water taxis utilize roughly 100,000 to 125,000 gallons of fuel per year, while the ferries run through 350,000 gallons a year.

With those numbers in mind, Mooney expressed that “that $3 increase is a significant increase for us, and it’s non-absorbable. ”

In addition to the upkeep and fueling of boats, Fire Island Ferries employs about 350 workers during the summer season.

Legislator Dominick Thorne asked some follow-up questions about employment and staffing regulations enforced by the Coast Guard to illustrate that money is also necessary to keep people employed.

Legislator Manuel Esteban was weary of the idea of increasing rates. He understood that the Paycheck Protection Program, which was backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, helped Fire Island Ferries essentially balance out the lost revenue from the 2020 year. But he made it a point to express that many families, potential customers of the ferry company, did not receive the same financial relief.

Therefore, by increasing rates quickly, Esteban expressed a concern that “you hurt your customers.” He added: “You have to take into account the economic curve, the more you increase your rates, the less passengers you’ll have. ”

In the end, Esteban echoed the hope of other legislators, such as McCaffery, that should fuel costs decrease, the rates will as well. “I hope that you will act in good faith,” Esteban said.

Mooney was quick to answer ‘yes’ when asked if he would consider lowering rates when that became a viable possibility. The license for the company is up in April of 2024, meaning that a meeting with the legislature will be held for renewal, but Mooney expressed his willingness to meet with the legislature again come the end of September to revisit the issue of rates.

“It’s all very volatile,” Mooney said of fuel rates. To support the claim that he is not attempting to overcharge passengers, Mooney explained that the water taxi is approved for higher rates than what they are charging in some areas.

The final legislator to speak on the matter was Steven Flotteron of the 11th district, which includes Bay Shore, Brightwaters, and the western part of Fire Island. He brought to Mooney’s attention some concerns from members of the Fair Harbor community regarding a cut in ferry services. He noted a decrease from 11 ferries on the weekend to nine.

Mooney expressed that it was “a reduced number of trips, not number of boats.” This was to deal with the issue of traffic and overcrowding on Maple Avenue and the ferry terminal on the mainland. Mooney advised passengers who do not want to be on crowded ferries to “pick your times” to avoid rush hour, which is a reality for ferry transportation as well.

The legislative vote approved the request for an increase of passenger rates, a change that went into effect on June 25. Fire Island Ferries offers adult round trip-tickets at $25 and children’s round-trip at $13.