POINTE A LA HACHE, Louisiana — Plaquemines Parish officials are considering adding fees to previously free ferry routes.
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports (http://bit.ly/1Xrivbo ) they're also considering cutting back on the number of people who receive fare exemptions as a way of raising more money for the service.
Director of Public Service Michael Jiles said the ferries currently recoup only a small portion of what it costs to operate them, and the parish needs to raise the fares to help preserve the service.
"Of course no one wants an increase, whether it's a dollar or a dime,"Jiles said. "But for the most part, the general public understands it's not something we want to do. We're not trying to add another tax or put another burden on a person. We're just trying to do this to make sure that the ferry system is always available."
It costs about $4 million per year to operate, and Jiles said the parish recoups about $140,000 from fares. General fund money covers the rest.
The new fares could bring in an estimated $700,000 a year — still not enough to cover the costs, but enough to make a dent in them.
The parish has held three public meetings on the issue so far, and the Parish Council may consider the fare changes at its next meeting Dec. 10. If approved then, the new fares could go into effect in January, Jiles said.
Plaquemines Parish currently has three ferries operating on two routes, at Point a la Hache and Belle Chasse. The Point a la Hache ferry is currently free, while the Belle Chasse ferry charges $1 for vehicles to cross, but only west to east.
Now, parish officials are considering charging $1 per vehicle for all of the ferries, in each direction.
The parish also provides vehicle stickers that indicate people are exempt from having to pay the fares. Right now, a large number of people are exempt. For example, teachers, students and certain civic employees don't have to pay to commute during peak hours.
But the number of free rides just became too many, said Jiles. On a recent day, they had 1,400 vehicles cross and only collected about $400 in fares.
The current proposal would do away with the stickers and limit exemptions to people over 65, people with disabilities, and people with Medicare cards.
Jiles said the ferry fares would still be low compared to the Chalmette ferry, which charges $2 per vehicle, plus $1 per additional passenger.
Residents who have comments or questions about the fare increases can contact Jiles' office, at 504-297-5561 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also reach out to their respective council member.
"Nothing is definitive, nothing's in stone, nothing in concrete," Jiles said. "Everything is just for discussion right now."
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com