Ferry service mulls vehicle line-up changes
Rockland — The Maine State Ferry Service may change vehicle line-up rules in Rockland, but nothing is imminent, said Ferry Service Manager John Anders June 11.
These changes would include making it illegal to park unattended vehicles in line or substitute one vehicle for another while waiting for a departing ferry.
Anders said some of the proposals are contentious as drafted by the ferry service. They are under review by its advisory board.
With six ferries per day going to and coming from Vinalhaven — and four more daily to and from North Haven — changes are needed, Anders said. There are complaints about too many near-misses in the parking lot, caused in part by people coming in at the last minute to get in line, he said.
Most ferry departures by vehicle involve line up of non-reserved vehicles on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to current regulations. The selection of vehicles for loading begins 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure times. Current rules allow vehicle owners to line up as early as 24 hours before their scheduled departures.
“It has been reported to me that there have been as many as 20 vacant cars (parked) in line,” Anders said.
He added there are two people in the parking area who make it their business to move cars ahead in line for the owner by using their own cars, and then swapping out the customer's car later so they can return to Vinalhaven or North Haven. They are not state employees, Anders emphasized.
“I don't think anybody should be making money on someone's desire to get home,” said Rick Dubois, Maine Department of Transportation’s director of multi-modal operations, who is Anders' supervisor.
The state is primarily interested in efficiency, safety, and making the process of ferry departure as pleasant as possible, Anders and Dubois said, while also making sure islanders get back home on time.
But Phil Crossman, who has owned The Vinalhaven Motel for 40 years, said the proposed Rockland line-up changes are poorly thought out and hostile, with wording that speaks of “towing vehicles at the owners' expense.” He believes that due to negative comments about the proposed line-up changes, they will not be enacted.
Crossman explained his own process of substituting vehicles and how important it is to islanders who visit Rockland. He visits Rockland in one vehicle, while having a second vehicle parked seasonally in the ferry service lot. He takes his primary vehicle around Rockland, while using his second vehicle as his substitute to move up in line periodically.
This avoids being “at the end of the line when you need to go home,” he said. The last ferry departs for Vinalhaven at 4:30 p.m.
“This is one practice that makes life possible for us as opposed to impossible,” Crossman said.
Dubois said he agrees that some of the drafted language is unfortunate in its wording about towing vehicles. “But if we are thinking about a way to implement something, there has to be a way to enforce it,” he said.
In a recent letter Crossman sent to Anders, the motel owner made it clear he is concerned about the impact of proposed policy changes for all Vinalhaven residents, such as mothers with children. It would be a hardship on them to miss the last ferry of the day and have to find overnight lodging, he emphasized.
“To suggest that a busy island mother with a kid or two in tow, or an elderly island resident, or anyone else for that matter — trying to make an afternoon doctor's appointment will be unable to do what we have done for years but instead must take her chances by rushing to the last boat only to find she was too far back in line, can't take her car out of line or put a substitute in its place … is not a good example of how to 'serve the island people,' which was precisely and accurately what you told me was your first priority during our meeting a couple of months ago,” Crossman wrote.
The ferry service Advisory Board consists of nine members, Anders said, with one each representing the islands of Vinalhaven, North Haven, Matinicus, Swans Island, Frenchboro, and Islesboro, and on the mainland, Rockland, Bass Harbor and Lincolnville.
Rockland's advisory board member, Richard Spear, who was Maine State Ferry Service's first Rockland manager from 1959 to 1989, said he hasn't made up his mind on any proposed changes. The ferry service's problems stem from trying to accommodate all ferry users in increasingly tight space, he said.
Whatever line-up changes are made, if any, “We have a history of listening to our [ferry service] advisory board,” Dubois said. The state DOT would have to sign off on implementing the changes.
The ferry service has received numerous public comments and requests any additional comments by June 13, which can be emailed to Anders at email@example.com. However, public comments will still be taken after June 13, he said.
The ferry service advisory board's next meeting is Thursday, July 10, at 10:30 a.m. in Rockland's Maine State Ferry Service conference room.
Courier Publications reporter Larry Di Giovanni can be reached at 594-4401 x. 117, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.