Officials in North Carolina have tested a 91-foot passenger ferry from Boston that they hope will help reverse a trend of declining tourism on the Outer Banks.
The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reports (http://bit.ly/1PdNKIq ) the Provincetown III was used for trips between Hatteras and Ocracoke last week, which were part of a study conducted by a Raleigh company to determine how to cut down on long lines and improve tourism on Ocracoke Island.
Volkert Inc. plans to complete its study by the end of the year.
The N.C. Department of Transportation signed an agreement with Bay State Cruise Co. to charter the Provincetown III for test runs between Hatteras and Ocracoke. It’s a catamaran-style ferry that is 98 feet long and carries 149 passengers. It services the Boston to Provincetown route in the summer and works in the Caribbean in the winter. The ship was on its return voyage north when it stopped in North Carolina.
Ferry Division statistics show the number of vehicles using the six Hatteras ferries last summer dropped to 115,000, compared to an average of 139,000 over the previous three summers.
Hyde County Manager Bill Rich also says tourists visiting Ocracoke fell by 450 people a day.
In 2013, the traditional Hatteras-Ocracoke route shoaled badly, forcing the U.S. Coast Guard to designate a longer 8-mile path. Travel time to Ocracoke’s east docks doubled to about an hour.
The extended route has meant fewer trips and caused longer car lines. Tourists are skipping Ocracoke, where a community of about 1,000 depends on visitor spending in downtown shops.
In test runs last week, the passenger ferry reached the west docks near downtown in the same time. Hatteras ferries typically land at the northeast end where passengers still have a 15-minute drive to the village.
“I am very excited about this passenger ferry,” said Carol Pahl, owner of Annie’s Treasures and Ocracoke Restoration. “We will be within walking distance.”
Hyde County and Ocracoke plan to run a tram from the ferry dock to downtown, according to Rich. Golf cart and bike rentals would increase on the island.