Proposed new toll and toll increases on coastal ferry routes are unlikely to be implemented July 1 as originally planned, officials said Tuesday.
But that delay may be only temporary.
Local ferry workers on the Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch route informed riders Tuesday morning that the plan for tolls was off for now.
"That’s good news," said Troy Lamson, a ferry rider from Havelock. "I just bought a house two years ago because of the ferry. I work at PCS (Phosphate in Aurora). I take it to work every day."
The legislative Rules Review Commission, which approved the ferry tolls, received more than 10 letters protesting the fees, and under state law, must delay action for legislative review, according to Steve Abbott, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation that operates the ferry system.
"We are now in a holding pattern to wait for the General Assembly to determine what is going on," Abbott said.
On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee again put off debating a bill that seeks alternatives to increasing ferry tolls and instead would allow for revenue-generating activities such as advertising on ferries.
N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said he did not think legislative action would take place to prompt the implementation of tolls on July 1. He was pleased with the delay.
"Tolls are going to have a very negative economic impact on our area, so if we can use that vehicle to get to where we need to go, then I’m all for it," he said.
Abbott also did not think legislators could get together on a plan by July 1, whether through various bills introduced in the House and Senate or the state budget process.
"None of that is clear to us at this point," he said. "We’re not going to go out there and make a decision until we know exactly what the General Assembly requires of us. We are in a waiting pattern right now."
But in the Senate, a budget proposal released this week calls for tolling on all ferries by Nov. 1, Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, said during a budget hearing Tuesday morning.
The budget proposal would adopt DOT’s rate hikes as well as add tolls to two routes that are currently without fares, including the ferry running between Hatteras and Ocracoke.
Many Ferry riders have been worried for the last two years that tolls would be added or increased on coastal ferry routes, thanks to a 2011 mandate by the General Assembly that the ferry division raise $5 million in additional revenue.
"I don’t think they should be charging anybody for tolls," said Doug Sinclair, of Alliance, who rides the Minnesott-Cherry Branch ferry to get to his job as a teacher at Carteret Community College in Morehead City. "It’s basically an extension of Highway 306. I need it to go to work."
The Minnesott-Cherry Branch route is currently free, but the proposed tolls call for a $4 charge for the typical passenger vehicle and a $1 fee per vehicle passenger. A commuter pass would be available for $150 per year.
Fares for most cars on the Southport-Fort Fisher route are set to double, from $5 to $10. There also will be a new per-passenger charge of $2.
Molly Parker of the Wilmington Star News contributed to this story.