Ocracoke trams make early debut during limited ferry service

By on September 24, 2018

Ocracoke School fifth graders were the first passengers with Joseph Ramunni in the driver’s seat. (Connie Leinbach)

By Connie Leinbach

Pressed into service by limited ferry access to the island, the long-awaited tram service in Ocracoke Village made its debut Saturday under sunny skies.

Joseph Ramunni, who was awarded a contract from Hyde County to manage the operation, began driving two of four open-air, electric trams up Irvin Garrish Highway. It turned around at Howard’s Pub, then headed down Back Road to the No. 1 stop at the new shelter in front of the NPS Visitors Center.

With N.C. 12 still being repaired after damage from Hurricane Florence, the Hatteras ferry route is temporarily out of commission. Hyde County put the trams into service to accommodate walk-on ferry riders who might not be able to reserve a vehicle slot on the Swan Quarter or Cedar Island routes, which are on limited schedules.

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Although there were no walk-on passengers from the just-arrived Swan Quarter ferry at 1 p.m. Saturday, Ramunni fired up the vehicle for an N.C Ferry Division worker and a member of the press.

Then it was on to stop No. 1 at Community Square.

“This is history,” Ramunni said as four Ocracoke School fifth graders hopped on.

The tram service, which was authorized last year as part of soon-to-be passenger ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke, is free. Although the passenger ferry is still under construction, the electric trams will run daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., as necessary, Ramunni said.

Ramunni said he has several drivers to help and no special license is needed.

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Starting at the NPS Visitors Center, the tram will make continuous trips on its route and will stop at the designated stops. Those are: Community Square, the Island Inn, the Variety Store, Howard’s Pub, on Back Road at Ocracoke Coffee Company and Zillie’s.

“We tried to make a stop at each area (of the village),” he said.

To fill in the service gaps, Norman LeBlanc, father of Justin LeBlanc, who owns Ocracoke Beach Tours, had that open-air vehicle waiting at the south-end ferry dock. Hand-made signs indicated the vehicle will give free shuttle service to island hotels and rental homes.

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Although no walk-ons departed the Swan Quarter ferry, LeBlanc said he’d be back for the later arrivals.

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