PUC approves freight rate increasesOriginal draft agreement goes through
Interstate Navigation Co. received approval Monday to increase rates for freight and passengers on its ferries as of May 24.
The three-member R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to accept a Settlement Agreement entered between Interstate Navigation and the R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers that allows the ferry company to generate $579,388 in additional traditional ferry revenues.
Along with a 34 percent increase in freight charges, there will be an increase in truck charges, a slight increase in passenger ticket costs and a decrease in car charges. It is the first ticket price increase for the company in five years and the first increase on freight tariffs in nine years.
“We heard a lot of public comments and really kicked the tires off this settlement,” said PUC member Paul J. Roberti on Monday. “Going into it, I had concerns…but [this settlement agreement] is within reasonableness.”
Roberti’s motion to approve the settlement without alteration was quickly approved Monday after months of testimony before the board.
The agreement also allows the company to have flexibility in some ticket prices, so that a full hearing won’t be required to increase fares by up to 10 percent or decrease them by not more than 20 percent during the following three-year period. Such flexibility allows Interstate to increase round-trip tickets and non-commuter car trips by up to $5. This provision does not apply to commuters, commuter vehicles and freight trips, the agreement states.
“Competition is always best and I think the company should be given some latitude,” said PUC Chair Elia Germani, prior to the vote. “Lifeline rates will not be affected.”
Interstate Navigation attorney Michael R. McElroy, who last week testified that the ferry company relies on tourism dollars to keep the ferries operating all year, said Monday that he and the Linda family, owners of Interstate, were “pleased” that the settlement agreement was approved without alteration.
New Shoreham town officials, who had submitted an alternative approach to rate increases, did not attend Monday’s hearing. Block Island resident Paul Filippi, who opposed the rate increases, submitted another letter to the PUC Monday seeking more financial information on the company’s operations.
The new prices for the ferry from Point Judith to Block Island, include an adult round-trip fare increase by $4.30 from $18.30 to $22.60; a child round-trip fare increase by $2.20, from $9.10 to $11.30; and a commuter-round trip fare increase by $5.50, from $10.50 to $16. Travel costs for non-commuter vehicles will decrease about 20 percent. Freight tariffs alone will increase the company’s revenue by an estimated $272,961. Price increases on individual freight items are listed in the full application, which can be found at www.ripuc.org, under Commission Docket Menu, Docket No. 4373.