Maine State Ferry Advisory Board adopts island-proposed rate increase

In Brief
By Holly S. Anderson | May 23, 2009
Photo by: Holly S. Anderson

Rockland — After discussing a half-dozen state-created rate increase proposals for two and a half hours Friday, May 22, the Maine State Ferry Advisory Board voted unanimously to adopt an option developed by an island select board.

According to Jim MacLeod, manager of the Maine State Ferry Service, the advisory board voted to adopt adding surcharges of $2.35 to all vehicle/driver tickets and $1.35 to all other tickets (passenger, bicycle, child) to all locations except Islesboro and Matinicus.

The surcharge figure was developed by the North Haven Board of Selectmen and finalized at a special selectmen's meeting May 20. That proposal was presented to the advisory board Friday for consideration as a seventh rate increase option.

In addition to the $2.35/$1.35 surcharges, the North Haven Selectmen proposed that truck and reservation fares be left at their current levels. Those considerations were also adopted by the advisory board Friday.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Transportation had proposed six rate increase options, ranging from percentage increases on all fares to surcharges on some tickets and seasonal increases on others.

The advisory board rejected the proposals May 7 and asked the DOT to return with answers to questions and more information about each option. The DOT's response, which was delivered at Friday's meeting, included figures on how much revenue each option was expected to generate in the DOT's goal of closing the $45 million shortfall in the ferry service budget.

The state is pushing the fare increase through in hopes of a July 1 effective date. That action, though, has served to fan the flames of frustration by the public, as voiced by the North Haven selectmen in an open letter to the Maine State Ferry Service Friday.

"The haste and tight time constraints in which the MSFS proposal has been put forward raise questions of how in the middle of a biennial budget cycle, the MSFS could identify only recently, and in a period of virtually nil inflation, expenditures that it did not anticipate in the categories of 'personal services, professional services and vessel maintenance.'

"MSFS management owes both the taxpayers of Maine and the users of the service a more complete explanation. The data supplied to interested island residents, data which has allowed us now at least limited participation in the analysis and possible solutions, comes almost too late to be meaningful," said the selectmen in their letter.

In the run-up to the July 1 activation date, the state has planned a pair of public hearings in June to vet the advisory board's decision, according to MacLeod. Those hearings will be held on Tuesday, June 16 at 7 p.m. on Swan's Island and on Thursday, June 18 at 6 p.m. in Rockland. MacLeod said there will be additional late ferry runs on June 18 for residents of Islesboro, Vinalhaven and North Haven. DOT staff plan to hire a lobsterboat for the trip back from Swan's Island and mainland residents interested in attending should contact MacLeod at jim.macleod@maine.gov or by calling 596-2243.
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