Ferry rate increase: three main issues

By Gabe Pendleton | May 09, 2018

A lot has been in the news lately about the Islesboro Ferry rate increase and I wanted to take the time to explain this issue from an Islesboro resident's perspective. There are three main issues that I would like to address: (1) process failure, (2) new rate structure inequality, and (3) the probable change in Islesboro. There is also a reasonable increase in fares that I can suggest.

With respect to the process failure, Maine Department of Transportation held hearings and solicited input from the various islands on a variety of rate structure proposals. Islesboro actively participated in the process — we wrote letters, reviewed and commented on many rate structure proposals, and hosted a meeting on Islesboro to discuss the MDOT preference for charging out-of-state residents more.

However, the first time we even heard of the new flat rate structure that significantly increases rates for Islesboro residents was when MDOT adopted it two weeks ago. As a result, there was no opportunity for residents to provide meaningful feedback on this proposal before it was adopted. Islesboro residents rightly feel that the meetings and process were a farce that bore no relation to the ultimate decision.

Next, every relevant metric demonstrates that the new rate structure is inequitable. First, under the new rate structure, Islesboro will pay more per mile than any other island — approximately five times more per mile than North Haven and Vinalhaven and twice as much as Swans Island. While MDOT describes the cost-per-mile system as “antiquated,” there is a reason that it costs more to take a bus to New York than to Boston.

Next, Islesboro already pays a larger percentage of its cost than any other island at 66 percent. After this rate increase, Islesboro ferry revenue will cover a whopping 111 percent of the cost to run the ferry. In comparison, Swans Island revenue will cover 45 percent of its cost. Vinalhaven revenue will cover 36 percent of its cost. North Haven will cover 34 percent of its cost. I don’t believe any objective person could find this equitable or reasonable, and Islesboro residents certainly do not.

Finally, this rate structure change will have a permanent and lasting effect on the Islesboro community. Currently Islesboro has no bank, no hair salon, no full-service medical facility, no dentist, and one restaurant that is open only two nights a week. Every errand, doctor’s appointment, haircut, dentist visit, etc., requires a trip on the ferry.

Families with three children (over 12 but under 18) will have to pay $74 to take the ferry, when previously it cost them $35.75. On top of the direct transportation cost, the cost of all other goods and services — including heating oil — will increase. Note that Islesboro is the only island that will see an increase in the cost for freight trucks.

The compounding effect of higher ticket prices and higher cost of goods and services most likely will be that families leave Islesboro because they can no longer afford to live here. With the cost more than doubling with a single month's notice, there is no time for families to adapt.

Islesboro works hard to maintain a thriving K-12 school and recently opened a preschool. This rate increase has the potential to close the school within several years. From there it will be a short time before Islesboro ceases to be a year-round community. If this happens, ridership on Islesboro’s ferry and the corresponding MSFS revenue will plummet.

Islesboro continues to support an increase of all rates across the board by the percentage needed to meet the budget shortfall (about 16 percent). All ticket prices should be rounded up to the nearest quarter to cover any loss in ridership and make it easier for line attendants to make change.

Islesboro welcomes the opportunity to discuss this further with MDOT and other island communities.

Gabriel Pendleton is a member of the Islesboro Board of Selectmen.

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