DOT pitches seasonal island ferry rates

By Dan Otis Smith | Apr 28, 2017
Photo by: Dan Otis Smith Ramp No. 1 at the Rockland Ferry Terminal

Rockland — Islanders and visitors could face new seasonal rates for ferry tickets to Vinalhaven, North Haven, Swans Island, Frenchboro, Islesboro and Matinicus in 2018.

Speaking April 27, Rick Dubois, Department of Transportation director of multimodal operations, said additional proposals to increase parking pass prices and make changes to reservation systems had been put on hold because of negative response.

"Given the concern expressed by board members, we're just going to focus on rate changes," Dubois said.

DOT brought a number of proposals to the Maine State Ferry Advisory Board, composed of island representatives, in meetings earlier this month.

The main thrust of the ticket rate proposals is to charge higher prices during the summer months and lower prices during the winter months. Discounts of roughly 50 percent for on-island ticket purchases would be eliminated.

For example, presently, passengers who buy an adult round-trip ticket to Vinalhaven from the Rockland Ferry Terminal pay $17.50, but the price is just $9.75 when passengers buy a ticket on the island.

One proposed new fee structure would increase the price to $19 from June to September and lower it to $8 from October to May, no matter where passengers buy their tickets.

The idea, Dubois said during an April 13 meeting with the advisory board, is to "get the money from the people that can afford to pay it" during the busier summer season, while minimizing impact on year-round ferry users. Another stated goal is to simplify the ticketing system.

Dubois said it has been almost a decade since the last fare increase.

Charging lower rates based on proof of island residency is not an option under federal law, he said, based on information from the department's legal department.

Dubois said April 27 that he had received a large volume of phone calls and emails in response to the proposals, with most arguing that in-season rates are too high under the proposals.

He emphasized that none of the proposals is set in stone. "We haven't fully analyzed anything, but it is our intent to explore this," he said. He said he hoped to meet "as frequently and as many times as possible" with island representatives over the summer in order to hammer out a palatable solution ahead of a public process in the fall. Changes would then be implemented in April or May 2018.

He said DOT had been asked by the advisory board to develop a rate increase strategy using the current ticketing structure, but he did not think it was likely to be a workable solution. Other alternatives would include lengthening the in-season to keep the higher rates down, though Dubois acknowledged that inevitably means a shorter period of low rates during the colder months.

The proposals come in an attempt to fulfill a requirement that DOT collect at least 50 percent of the revenue needed to operate the ferry service, with the other 50 percent coming from the state Highway Fund. With a projected $11 million annual budget in 2020, that means the ferry service is trying to reach $5.5 million in revenue, while the average annual revenue from the last five years was $4.5 million.

Dubois said DOT was not trying to force anything on islanders. "We're not dictating, really, anything," he said. "If somebody has a better idea or an approach that works best," then he would encourage them to make their ideas known.

Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at dsmith@villagesoup.com.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 03, 2017 11:32

Make living on an island a disability and the whole country can chip in on keeping the trip affordable.



Posted by: Richard Sprowl | May 02, 2017 16:51

It is a Maine State Ferry, not the United States government owned. How can it be unconstitutional to let Mainer's travel at a lower fare than summa people. Charging the island residents more during the summer would be like charging turnpike travelers more during the summer. Bet that proposal would get shot down fast. I think the DOT could get the legislature to change the 50 50 requirement or simply appropriate funds to cover the million dollar shortfall. Let the islanders have favorable rates. They get very few benefits from the highway fund relative to the multi-millions spent on roads which we main-lander's use.

 



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