(Hartford Courant) State Senator Linares, Residents Mobilize Against Proposed Ferry Fare Increases

May 10, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

State Senator, Residents Mobilize Against Proposed Ferry Fare Increases

By ERIK HESSELBERG, Special to The Courant

State Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, is joining residents mobilizing to oppose to the state Department of Transportation’s plan to double fares on its historic Connecticut River ferries.

Linares, in a strongly worded letter to DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker, criticized the proposed increases as “unfair,” and amounting to “a new and higher tax on the families” in his 33rd District, which includes the Chester-Hadlyme ferry.

“For local residents, the 100 percent increase in fares would discourage ridership while raising the cost of living and doing business,” the May 9 letter states.

Linares’ objections come amid mounting opposition to the proposed rate increases, which would see fares rise from $3 to $6 for vehicles on both the Glastonbury-Rocky Hill and the Chester-Hadlyme ferries starting on July 1.

Fares for walk-on passengers are also slated to double from $1 to $2, and the discount coupon book that now costs $40 for a book of 20 coupon tickets will be increased to $80.

The DOT has scheduled hearings on the fare increases this month. The first is set for May 20 at the Rocky Hill Community Center, room 1; the second on May 22 at the Chester Meeting House. Both meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

On Monday, the 150-member Hadlyme Public Hall Association, which seeks to preserve local landmarks and traditions, launched a petition drive calling on residents of the lower river to oppose the fare increases.

The petition, at SignOn.org, had 275 signatures as of Friday. The association has asked the DOT to seek alternatives for increasing revenue, such as boosting rates on weekends and for out-of-staters and extend weekend hours to generate more income.

Linares expressed concerns over the impact fare increases would have on tourism. The Chester-Hadyme ferry, a transportation link since before the American Revolution, these days carries visitors over to Gillette Castle, crowning a bluff above the river along a picturesque stretch known as the “Seven Sister Hills.” Recently, Essex Steam Trains, which operates on the old Valley Railroad line, teamed up with the DOT to offer a combined ticket to ride both the train and ferry over to Gillette.

The Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry, on a scenic bend in the river, is the oldest ferry in the country, established in 1655.

“Rather than doubling ferry fares,” Linares wrote, “I urge you to revise your plan and instead find additional budget savings within your department. The residents and businesses I represent just endured the largest tax hike in state history. They do not want additional taxes, fees or fares in any way, shape or form. They want their state government to find efficiencies and to cut costs.”

The DOT is struggling to keep the ferries afloat, with operating costs generally greater than the revenue from fares. Combined, both ferries lost $651,000 during the most recent fiscal year, the DOT said. In 2013, the Chester-Hadlyme ferry carried 37,811 vehicles across the river during the April to November season; Glastonbury-Rock-Hill carried 16,214 cars.