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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Ferry Fare Changes Outlined at Virtual Public Hearing

Cape May-Lewes Ferry Approaching North Cape May terminal.
File Photo
The Delaware River and Bay Authority announced changes to fares for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Most increases are $1 to $3, with discounts and incentives available.

By Christopher South

NORTH CAPE MAY – Fares for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry are going up, according to a virtual presentation given recently by the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

In the authority’s first-ever virtual meeting on fares, Heath Gehrke, director of ferry operations, said fares are adjusted about every other year, with the last change coming in 2022. He said fares would be increased in 2024 to adjust to the cost of inflation. Increased prices would be effective in April.

“Running a ferry isn’t inexpensive,” Gehrke said at the Dec. 6 meeting, citing maintenance costs, material and fuel costs, and salary and wage increases. “We’re just trying to keep up.”

Gehrke said there were no increases for passengers – only $1 to $3 cost hikes for vehicles. He said the fare for vehicles under 25 feet will go up $1 in-season only. Vehicle fares are now $22 one way and $39 for a round trip.

There will be a $2 increase for vehicles from 25 feet to 44 feet in-season, and a $3 increase for vehicles 45 feet and over. Rates will stay the same out of season.

In-season rates apply between April 1 and Oct. 31.

“The discounted rates will increase similarly,” Gehrke said. “If you buy a six-pack (six-trip ticket), it’s now $25.50 per trip, and that is going to increase to $26.50.”

Shuttle fares will also increase, from $4 to $6.

Gehrke said the authority is not increasing fares for the return portion of a round-trip ticket, which must be purchased as a round trip, saying that is a substantial discount. He said the discount is currently $10 on a standard vehicle, and if you pay for both legs of the trip you save $11. The price for larger vehicles is a little more, he said, but the price per foot is less than for a standard vehicle.

He said the authority hopes to decrease costs for families, incentivize booking multiple trips and disincentivize not showing up for a booking. Last year the authority implemented a no-show fee because there are always a fair number of people who book and then don’t show up, he said.

That number was still significant last year, so the no-show charge will increase from $10 to $26. He said avoiding the extra fee is simple: Either show up or call ahead to cancel the reservation. Riders can also email or use the interactive chat online.

“Call and say you are not traveling – the ticket is good for two years,” he said.

Gehrke said the authority’s preference is to have passengers reserve a place by booking online. He said the ferry charges a $2 handling fee for show-and-go, which is showing up without a reservation. He said it is a nominal fee for the extra work.

The ferry also implemented a $5 priority boarding fee, which allows customers to board early and disembark earlier, which he said is good for business customers.

As far as decreasing costs goes, Gehrke said all children age 13 and under are free during the offseason, Nov. 1 to March 31. The ferry is reducing the passenger fee for children from $4 for a one-way ticket and $7 for a round trip, to $3 and $5.

The ferry also has a loyalty reward points program similar to what airlines do. With the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, after 10 trips the member will receive a free driver or passenger ticket. Loyalty members simply register for an online account to manage their rewards.

For every 50 points earned they get $1 off their fare. He said that is similar to airline miles, which generally require 70 points per $1 off a fare. Points expire after one year.

The ferry also offers a 30% discount off published fares for commercial vehicles as an incentive for commercial passengers, which he said is part of the authority’s mission, to promote the transportation of commercial goods.

There were several questions from the public after the presentation, with only one pertaining to fares. A member of the public asked if the authority would consider lifetime discounts rather than one-year rates. Gehrke said that would be something they could consider.

Other questions pertained to plans for new vessels, Federal Transit Administration grants for vessels, using solar panels on buildings and converting the fleet to electric-powered vessels. Gehrke said there were no plans to convert the existing fleet, but new vessels would be hybrids using diesel and battery power.

“Our goal is to be 100% electric in the long term,” he said.

According to the presentation, the authority operates the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, the Delaware Memorial Bridge and five regional airports. The authority is supported solely by fares and tolls, and for every $1 that goes to the authority, $20 goes into the local economy, Gehrke said.

The ferry generates about $14 million in revenue and has about $25 million in expenses. He said about 60% of the ferry expenses are paid through revenues, and the rest is paid for by bridge tolls.

Gehrke said recommendations made by the public would be presented to the authority’s board of trustees in December or January and, if passed, would go into effect in April.

Contact the author, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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