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Maine Ferry Service Advisory Board to discuss rate hike options May 22

By Holly S. Anderson | May 20, 2009
Photo by: Holly S. Anderson

Rockland — The Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board will meet in Rockland Friday, May 22 to review a handful of proposed rate increase options, which board Chairman Lisa Shields hopes will yield a palatable solution to bring to the public at hearings in June.

Fare increase options were originally presented by the Maine Department of Transportation at an advisory board meeting May 7. According to DOT Multimodal Maintenance Engineer Rick Dubois Wednesday, the advisory board sent the DOT back to Augusta to answer questions about each of the options, and prepare additional scenarios and details for review.

The advisory board's next meeting, which will be held Friday, May 22 at 10:30 a.m. at the Rockland Ferry Terminal, will be the DOT's answer to the board's questions and a presentation of six proposed ferry rate increase options. Also at the meeting, it is expected that at least one island community will present its own fare increase proposal, though details were not yet available.

Friday's meeting is not a public hearing, but a continuation of discussions of the options. The meeting is open to the public, and comments will be allowed, but Dubois said it's important for the community to understand that this is not the only opportunity for the public to weigh in on the issues. Should the advisory board vote to recommend an option brought before it Friday, then two public hearings will likely be held in June, one in Rockland and one in Bass Harbor.

The state is estimating it needs to generate an additional $400,000, or a total of $4.5 million, from the ferry service, according to Dubois.

A preview of the six fare increase proposals to be discussed by the advisory board Friday follows:

1. A 5 percent increase on all fares (10 percent for Islesboro) plus a $1 surcharge on all adult fares. (Revenue generated: $4.62 million)

Advantages: smallest percent increase for islanders of all proposals, helps address previous rate hike disparity between Islesboro and other islands (Vinalhaven, North Haven and Swans Island).

Disadvantages: needs surcharge to generate enough revenue, reduces options for future cost-saving proposals, and does not address the problem associated with island ticket sales.

2. Two-season fare system 9/05 -- FY 2009 mainland rates would apply in-season and FY 2005 island rates would apply off-season. (Revenue generated: $4.46 million)

Advantages: captures more dollars from summer residents and tourists, maintains options for future cost-saving proposals, and offers eight months of lower prices.

Disadvantages: negative initial reception by the advisory board, puts a burden on islanders who travel a lot during the summer, has heavy impact on freight movement during the busy season, and return-trip reservations increase from $16 to $25.

3. Two-season fare system revised 8/08 -- FY 2008 mainland rates apply in-season, FY 2008 island rates apply off-season, $1.25 surcharge on adult tickets. (Revenue generated: $4.5 million)

Advantages: captures some summer resident and tourist dollars, maintains options for future cost-saving proposals, surcharge maintains option of reductions if costs can be lowered or alternate revenues identified.

Disadvantages: surcharge and reservation fare increases needed to generate enough revenue, larger year-round burden on islanders than proposals 1 and 2.

4. $2.50 surcharge -- $2.50 surcharge on all adult tickets. (Revenue generated: $4.56 million)

Advantages: helps address previous rate hike disparity between Islesboro and the other islands, keeps all fares at FY09 rates, and maintains options of reductions.

Disadvantages: reduces options for future cost-saving proposals, large percent increase on adult tickets, and does not address the problems associated with island ticket sales.

5. Flat rate -- Creates uniform rates, no difference between seasons or place of purchase. Rates range between mainland and island rates. (Revenue generated: $4.47 million)

Advantages: captures some summer resident and tourist dollars and maintains options for future cost-saving proposals.

Disadvantage: cost burden on islanders higher than other proposals.

6. 14.67 percent increase -- 14.67 percent increase applied to all ticket categories. (Revenue generated: $4.78 million)

Advantages: follows traditional model of fare increases and offers smaller increase for islanders than two-season rate using FY 08 fare figures.

Disadvantages: increases growing disparity between islands and between mainland and island rates, reduces options for future cost-saving proposals, and does not address the problems associated with island ticket sales.

Reiterating the DOT's caution that Friday's meeting is to continue the dialogue on all the proposals up for discussion, Maine State Ferry Service Board Chairman Shields said, "Some of them [options] are going to be summarily dismissed as not acceptable. And there will be some proposals that demand deeper discussion. And possibility North Haven will put forth its own proposal."

"Frankly, some of the options will be unaffordable for the islanders and Augusta has been told that," Shields said. "But they have still been asked to bring the options forward for comparison purposes. No matter whether it's fair or not, there is a shortfall in the budget and we need to figure out how to make that up and that's what we're striving to do."

In addition to Shields, of North Haven, board members include:

Sari Bunker of Matinicus, Marjorie Stratton and Phil Crossman of Vinalhaven, Richard Spear of Rockland, Ernie Littlefield of Lincolnville, Marnie Diffin and Nakomis Nelson of Islesboro, Sen. Dennis Damon of Bass Harbor, Kathy Clark and Sonny Sprague of Swan's Island, David Lunt and Rob Stuart of Frenchboro, and Maine State Ferry Service Manager Jim MacLeod.
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