wants revenues to increase 17 percent, overall

Maine DOT proposes increased ferry ticket prices to meet revenue shortfall

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 8:45am

AUGUSTA — Maine Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note has proposed a new set of ferry ticket prices that reflect a need to cover an anticipated 17 percent annual shortfall in the ferry system budget. This follows the 2018 controversy over dramatically increased ticket prices for the Islesboro run.

However, the proposed rates, as contained in a March 27 letter to the Ferry Service Advisory Board (see attached PDF), are not cast in stone.

“The Commissioner has made no decision to raise ferry service fares across-the-board,” wrote Deputy Commissioner Nina Fisher, in an email, to clarify the reasoning behind the rate structure. “As he has indicated to the Ferry Service Advisory Board, he has in fact reopened a rulemaking process that will result in revised fares this summer and we hope to mitigate impacts.  We will be considering many options to lower the cost on islanders including seasonal rates, different flat rates for different islands, a change in the commercial truck rate, and other ideas.

“Commissioner Van Note did communicate to the Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board that the 50 percent of Ferry Service operations that ferry patrons pay has a 17 percent annual shortfall and we’ve issued a draft rule that reflected that change to reset the rulemaking clock.  FYI - the state pays the other 50 percent of the Ferry Service operating costs from the Highway Fund - almost $6 million per year- and the state pays for all capital costs, a substantial investment.”

The latest proposed set of tariffs are contained in an amended proposed rule that calls for ticket fees on ferries crossing to increase between 15 and 18 percent from current prices. Click here for current rates.

In the March 27 letter to the Ferry Service Advisory Board members, the commissioner wrote: “In advance of the revised rule making publication in early April, I wanted to provide this courtesy notification with the details of the revised proposal,” and added that nothing is yet decided.

A public hearing on the proposed rates will be held at 10 a.m., April 24, at the Hutchinson Center, in Belfast, as part of the rule-making process.

Van Note wrote that the fee structure would, he hoped, carry the DOT through a four-year period.

“Our calculations and projections indicate that we need an overall increase in revenues by about 17 percent to cover this period,” he wrote. 

The revised proposal, shown in the table below, “includes increases across the current flat rate structure by 15 to 20 percent per rate item to reach the target budget need,” wrote Van Note.

MSFSB-revisedrateproposal32719.jpg
The Maine DOT’s revised proposal for ferry ticket prices, as of March 27, 2019.

 

In May 2018, the DOT implemented a new ticket schedule for the ferries serving the islands of North Haven, Islesboro and Vinalhaven in Penobscot Bay, as well as Swans Island and Frenchboro.

Tariff No. 8 was criticized most heavily by residents and commuters to and from Islesboro, which sits three miles across from Lincolnville Beach in upper Penobscot Bay and is served by the Margaret Chase Smith ferry.

A legal complaint followed as Islesboro and resident filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, asking for a review of the tariff.

The next status conference with the judge concerning the lawsuit is scheduled for April 19.
 
Islesboro residents and businesses commuting to and from Islesboro adjusted to the new rates, either with suspending trips or hiring private launches.
 
In November, at a public hearing in Belfast, citizens railed at a ferry service representative and a DOT attorney, likewise urging an overhaul of the pricing.

 


Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657