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Ferry boycotters’ hopes rise after Minister drops a hint

Ferry boycotters have been told they will be “very happy” with Government’s latest decision on the pink route’s 100 percent fare increase.

A group of seven commuters have this week met Transport Minister Derrick Burgess to voice their concerns about the “exorbitant” rise of the Paget/Warwick fare.

But the meeting only lasted about five minutes as Mr Burgess quickly announced that changes were on their way.

The Minister did not go into details but abruptly “ended the meeting before it even began” and hinted Government had had a change of heart.

Mr Burgess told the boycotters: “Let’s make this a very short meeting. I have made some decisions and I think you will be very happy with them.”

The commuters now remain optimistic that Mr Burgess will be “more sympathetic” and reconsider the controversial fare increase from $2.50 to $5.

They started their four-week boycott when former Transport Minister Terry Lister, who was axed in the Cabinet reshuffle, introduced the new fares.

The boycott is understood to have resulted in a reduction of about 50 percent of passengers on the morning and afternoon commuter services. Ridership is understood to have dropped from about 80 to just 30 passengers on some journeys.

Commuter Debra Saltus said: “It was a very short meeting, so short that it was not really a meeting.

“It probably took less than five minutes, the Minister ended the meeting before it even began.

“He said he was already aware of our concerns and decisions had been made.

“We don’t know what has been decided, but he said we would hear something very soon.

“We just have to sit and wait. It’s now a waiting game.”

The Royal Gazette has been following the plight of the commuters who previously accused Mr Lister of “messing it all up” by ignoring a petition signed by about 200 people.

Mr Lister told the House of Assembly back in July that the ferry route had been plagued by low ridership and that it cost Government more than $1 million a year to provide seven-day and holiday service.

The Ministry of Transport initially said the increase would begin on August 1 but it was postponed until November 1 without a reason being given.

The new prices mean that regular ferry tokens are no longer accepted on the route and special tokens have to be purchased. A monthly pass has increased from $55 to $110 and a quarterly pass from $135 to $270.

Ms Saltus wrote to new Transport Minister Mr Burgess on behalf of the ferry commuters on November 15.

The letter asked the Minister to reconsider the 100 percent fare increase, the timing of the ferry schedule, and to allow the use of travel passes purchased before the fare increase.

Ms Saltus received a phone call from the Ministry of Transport within a week and the commuters met Mr Burgess and his permanent secretary Ellen-Kate Horton on Monday.

Ms Saltus said she had been impressed with the Minister’s “timely response”. She said Mr Burgess had been “very pleasant” and had indicated that he wanted to “keep things positive”.

The commuters now hope Mr Burgess will increase ferry fares across the board by “a more reasonable” dollar or two.

Ms Saltus said: “I’m optimistic about what has been decided. I’m hoping its something favourable.

“I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, I just hope he doesn’t burst my bubble.

“We told him that if we are not happy with the decision, he will see us back again.”

Ms Saltus, who paid for a quarterly pass for travel until the end of the year, has been among those commuters refusing to use the ferry.

She had enjoyed catching the ferry since 1986 but has recently invested in a bike to get her to and from work.

Other people are driving out of their way to catch the ferry from Rockaway in Southampton, as they can use their regular ferry passes on that ferry route.

The One Bermuda Alliance has previously accused Government of “not getting it” saying that “an effective public transport service will minimise traffic congestion and the ensuing frustrations”.

Mr Burgess did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

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Published November 30, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 30, 2011 at 8:42 am)

Ferry boycotters’ hopes rise after Minister drops a hint

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