The fourth and final meeting of the Ferry Working Group was held Wednesday night at the Middlesex Community College in Middletown where those in attendance worked on increasing the service for the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury and Chester-Hadlyme ferries while improving its finances.
The Ferry Working Group, which is run under the auspices of the state’s Department of Transportation, was formed after controversy erupted last year when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recommended shuttering the two historic ferry services in his alternative budget proposal. The proposal was abandoned when Malloy was able to reach a new concessions deal with state employee unions and his alternative budget was shelved.
The Ferry Working Group is tasked with figuring out a way to permanently keep the two ferry services from coming under the state budget ax. Previous governors have also suggested shutting down the ferries over the Connecticut River in tough economic times.
At Wednesday's meeting, the group of 15 people was broken into three teams to make presentations to the DOT, which were focused on improving ridership by marketing the ferries better. One of the team’s solutions was to make improvements to the Connecticut tourism and ferry websites.
“It was a pretty fruitfull discussion,” said Phillip T. Scarrozzo from the Department of Transportation, who facilitated the meeting.
All three teams pushed for the ferries to be running seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and wanted both vessels to be fully staffed. There are three full-time DOT employees working at the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, but five people are needed for it to be fully staffed.
However, several in attendance were non-committal to increasing the fares for the ferries this year, according to Scarrozzo. Some suggested waiting until 2013, however the increase fare is a real possibility this year, he added.
“It is something that we are looking into,” Scarrozzo said. He asked group members to think about what a reasonable rate increase would be.
The DOT staff is currently working on a business list of ideas on improving the ferry service and finances, however they wanted input from the group before finishing it. Once the list is completed, the DOT staff could meet again with members of the Ferry Working Group.
Members of the Friends of the Connecticut River Ferries attended the meeting and plan on meeting in the future. They are working on developing a website and trying to solicit donations for the ferry.