"4. How do I apply for a priority pass? This is only available at the Hatteras-Ocracoke route. Since ferry boat is the only way to access Ocracoke Island, businesses, services and individuals who travel back and forth more than twice a week, each week can apply for a priority pass. Passes are issued on an as-need basis at the beginning of each year. Call the Hatteras operations office at (252) 986-2353 or Ocracoke operations at (252) 928-1665 for further information."
There is actually more than one type of priority pass -- one is for residents, and the other (described in the above paragraph) is for "businesses, services and individuals who travel back and forth more than twice a week, each week."
I searched the DOT web site and could not find any official information about resident priority passes. I suppose that is because all residents know about them. I'll explain them, along with a bit of other information, below.
The commuter pass, which is for the toll ferries (Cedar Island & Swan Quarter) is entirely different. There is no priority loading on these vessels. However, anyone can purchase a commuter pass which allows frequent travelers to ride the ferries at a reduced rate.
- Resident priority passes are only for the Hatteras Inlet ferries, and are available only to permanent, full time residents of Ocracoke Island. If I remember the details correctly, in order to obtain a pass you must present a NC driver's license with an Ocracoke address, as well as other proof of island residency (e.g. a utility bill). At the time when new passes are issued, the requirements are posted on the bulletin board at the Post Office. The annual pass is a color-coded decal that is affixed to the windshield of your car. I believe each individual is entitled to as many as two passes. The priority pass allows you to use the priority loading lanes (on each side of Hatteras Inlet). Vehicles in the priority lane are loaded onto the ferries first. Other vehicles are then loaded in the order that they arrived at the terminal.
- Resident priority passes have been issued for about twenty years. They were established to ease the hardship on Ocracoke Island residents who had to wait in ferry lines, sometimes for hours, in order to do many basic tasks (doctor and dental appointments, school basketball games, shopping, civic meetings, car repair, driver's tests, business meetings, professional appointments, etc.).
- I don't know as much about the other priority passes, but they are primarily issued to businesses that serve Ocracoke Island. Without priority passes many of these businesses (those who deliver food, beverages, restaurant supplies, etc.) would either cease doing business on Ocracoke, or would significantly raise already high prices.
- I am aware of very little abuse of the priority passes. To my knowledge everyone with a resident pass is entitled to one, and I am not aware of any off-island businesses that misuse the system.
- Although priority loading may cause some minor inconvenience to visitors to the island, most residents travel off the island on early morning ferries that have very little north bound traffic, and return home late in the evening when south bound traffic is light. On those occasions when islanders or delivery trucks take spaces that could have been used by a visitor, please keep in mind that that may allow a cook or a wait person to arrive at work on time...or permit an elderly person to return home more quickly after surgery...or allow timely deliveries to your favorite restaurant. The system may not be perfect, but it really does work very well.
I hope the above information helps explain the priority pass system. It has worked well for two decades, and helps all island residents including those who serve the traveling public.
This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about "Ocracats" and was written by Pat Garber. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news031710.htm.