FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What is the issue?
By a mandate from the NC Legislature, the two ferries serving Pamlico County and neighboring Craven and Beaufort counties will be charging a toll on July 1, 2013. This would be the first toll on these commuter ferry routes since they began running decades ago. The ferry routes that would charge the tolls for the first time are the Cherry Branch-Minnesott ferry across the Neuse River and the Bayview-Aurora ferry which crosses the Pamlico River.

How much would it cost to cross on the Cherry Branch-Minnesott ferry once the tolls are charged?
$4 per vehicle, with driver, for a one-way trip. Passengers would pay $1 each. Passengers 12 and under would ride free. School buses would be charged a higher price. Vehicles 20-40 feet would be charged $8. 40 to 65 feet would be charged $12 per trip.

How much will it cost to cross on the Bayview-Aurora ferry?
This is a longer distance of 3.5 miles. The price there would be $10 per vehicle (with driver) and $2 for each passenger. There would be higher prices for longer vehicles. School buses would be charged

Why is this about to happen?
The Legislature in June of 2011 passed a budget that on page 338 demanded that the Department of Transportation charge tolls on these two ferries in order for the Ferry System to generate — not net, but gross – five million dollars. Also, the budget demanded that rates be raised on the Southport ferry and on the several-hour long Sound ferry routes from Swanquarter and Cedar Island to Ocracoke. Five ferry routes would then be subject to tolls.

Due to an outcry last year, the Legislature put off tolls until July 2013.

Are all of the ferries in NC going to charge tolls?
No. There are seven ferry routes. The Budget passed by the Legislature explicitly prohibits the Department of Transportation from charging tolls on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry, a 40 minute ride that is taken mainly by tourists. (Majority of license plates are out-of-state, according to DOT figures.) The budget also specifically stated that the DOT could not charge a toll on the Knott’s Island ferry in Currituck County.

Why were those ferries exempted?
The Republican leadership in the North Carolina House back in June of 2011 needed the votes of a handful of Democrats in order to have the votes to override Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue’s veto of their budget. Democratic Representative Jim Spear broke ranks with his party and voted for the Republican budget; his district is home to the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry which mainly serves a tourist population and was exempted from tolls. An amendment to the budget by Democratic Representative Bill Owens made the Knott’s Island ferry in his district off limits to a toll; he also broke ranks with his party and gave the Republican leadership the veto-proof majority it needed for the budget to pass.

How much did the Legislature say the tolls should bring in?
The Legislature called on the Department of Transportation to charge these tolls (and boost the existing tolls) in order to “generate” five million dollars. (Up from the $2 million currently generated.)

At a hearing in Pamlico County in February 2012, DOT Deputy Secretary Paul Morris stressed that DOT’s marching orders were to “generate,” or gross, $5 million. All of which makes the mandate to toll commuter ferries look like a symbolic gesture. The sad part is that that symbolic gesture will cause harsh repercussions for the commuters in and around Pamlico County.

What are some of the overhead costs?
Cost of building and readying toll booths will be about $63,000, says the Ferry Division chief Harold Thomas. Recurring costs — labor — are more. 8 workers will have to be hired to take tickets on the Cherry Branch-Minnesott ferry route (4 on each side, working in shifts of 2 at a time.) For the Aurora-Bayview route, there will be 4 employees hired to sell and take tickets. The Ferry Division puts the cost of labor for those 12 additional employees at about $360,000 a year. It could rise to $430,000/year if they become permanent employees with benefits.

How much are the Cherry Branch-Minnesott and Bayview-Aurora routes estimated to make?
The consulting firm CDM Smith says Cherry Branch-Minnesott will generate 13-14% of the $5 million in tolls generated by the 5 routes. That works out to $650,000-700,000 per year. Bayview-Aurora (with a smaller ridership) would generate 6-7% of the $5 million, or $300,000-$350,000. Together, the two ferry routes would generate $950,000-1,050,000. Subtract the first year start-up and labor costs ($63,000 and $360,000) and the net gain from both routes combined is $530,000-$630,000. It could be less in subsequent years when the higher labor costs kick in. For the two routes, overhead costs would eat up more than a third of the ticket money generated.

How many people traveled on the Neuse River ferry between Minnesott Beach and Cherry Branch in 2011?
About 250,000. It is the second most traveled ferry in the state, second only to the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry. A DOT count of license plates indicates 91% of the license plates on the Cherry Branch-Minnesott ferry are NC plates.

What do license plates mean in all of this?
The license plate counts are DOT’s best indicator of tourism traffic versus commuter traffic. According to DOT statistics, more than half of the travelers on Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry had out-of-state license plates last year, indicating most of the travelers there are tourists and not commuters. While that kind of access helps tourism, the Legislature’s tolling plan would force workers, school students and other residents needing to cross the Neuse and Pamlico River to pay a toll. This is why we advocate not charging any toll and use the ferries as an economic development tool — for everyone.

But aren’t the ferries a luxury? Why should people in the mountains of North Carolina or in the Piedmont pay for the ferries through the Highway Fund?
North Carolina is a diverse state with all sorts of terrain. Here in Pamlico County we are blessed with flat land which makes road construction and road paving relatively simple. Pamlico County residents understand that the people in the mountains of NC need roads too, even if it costs so much more to make roads that involves blasting in to the sides of mountains. No one here says those roads should be toll roads because of that expense. Ferries are our highways here and residents are asking only to be treated fairly.

We think of our ferries as our bridges.

Didn’t the Legislature seek information from residents or look in to the differences between ferries serving tourists and ferries serving residents?
No. There were no hearings in Raleigh on this subject before the budget was passed in 2011. Then in early 2012, when the state scheduled public hearings around Eastern North Carolina, no hearing was even scheduled for Pamlico County until residents called and wrote in. Some residents harbored suspicion that this was an attempt to avoid them and their concerns. Others say while it may have been a benign oversight, it underscores that Raleigh may not understand this area and how its residents will be affected.

How are Pamlico County residents responding to this toll?
The DOT hearing held in February 2012 at Pamlico Community College drew 500 people — a huge crowd in a county with 13,000 people. DOT said it was the biggest hearing of the five it held, which is impressive considering no hearing had initially even been planned in this county most affected by imposition of tolls. By comparison, the second biggest crowd was 180 people at a January hearing on Ocracoke (where the issue was a hike in the fares for the Sound ferries bringing tourists from Swanquarter and Cedar Island to Ocracoke.)

Are the ferry routes really a highway?
Yes. Maps show Highway 306 on both sides of the Neuse River and a line across the water and along the ferry route labeled as 306 as well. There is a NC state statute that protects state highways from tolls unless a local authority called the Rural Planning Organization first approves such a toll. NC General Statute 136-89.187 may be legal grounds for preventing the toll.