The state is seeking to increase Maine State Ferry Service rates less than a year after a new fee structure took effect.

In a courtesy notification to island officials, Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note outlined anticipated ferry rate changes to be published in early April.

The changes reflect increases of 15 to 20 percent above the current flat-rate fees that took effect in May 2018 over the objections of many islanders.

Most vocal were Islesboro officials, who objected to a more than 100% jump in the cost of a vehicle and driver traveling the three miles between the island and the mainland terminal in Lincolnville. The trip is the shortest between the mainland and the islands in Penboscot and Blue Hill bays served by Maine State Ferry Service, which is overseen by Maine DOT. With the new proposal, the cost would jump even more – from $30 to $35 for a roundtrip.

Van Note urged island officials to reserve judgment on the proposed fee increases.

“It is important to re-emphasize that this proposal will be fully subject to change as a result of continued input and deliberations,” he wrote. “We will be discussing other options that would change rates significantly.”

Until the flat-rate structure became active last year, there had not been a rate increase for more than a decade. A proposed budget shortfall opened the rate adjustment process in 2017 and included a series of public meetings on the mainland as well as on each island that allowed Maine DOT to get feedback on its proposals.

However, when the flat-rate fees were approved by DOT in January 2018, islanders said the proposal had not been publicly discussed and many Islesboro residents said the flat-rate hike would hurt ridership on the busiest route. Most other islands saw decreases in fees.

After the new flat rates were in place, Islesboro filed a lawsuit, alleging that Maine DOT had not followed the correct procedure – rulemaking, rather than adjudicating – when making a final decision about the rate changes. The court agreed and ordered Maine DOT to begin again, using the rulemaking process.

There will be an information meeting with Van Note on Islesboro on April 13 from 2-4 p.m. at G. H. Kinnicutt Center.

In addition, Maine DOT has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal at Hutchinson Center in Belfast on April 24 at 10 a.m.


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