ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Acadia stands to collect a lot more money from tour bus operators once the National Park Service’s (NPS) new standardized, nationwide fee schedule for motor coaches goes into effect Oct. 1.
Currently, buses with a seating capacity of 25 or more, including those that take cruise ship passengers on tours of the park, pay a flat $150 per trip.
The largest of the motor coaches that operate in Acadia have a capacity of 56 passengers.
Under the new fee schedule, motor coach operators will be charged $15 for each passenger on each trip. Acadia will keep $13 of the per-passenger fee, with $2 going to the NPS to help cover costs in parks that don’t charge entrance fees. So, for example, if a tour bus is carrying 40 passengers, the total fee will be $600, and Acadia will keep $520 of that.
Even if a tour bus passenger has already bought an Acadia entrance pass or an all-parks pass that allows entrance to Acadia, the tour bus operator will still be charged $15 for that passenger.
When a tour bus enters the park, the driver will be given a hang-tag showing the number of passengers for which the fee has been paid. The tag must be displayed at all times while the bus is in the park, and Acadia’s law enforcement rangers will do random spot checks to ensure that an entrance fee has been paid for all passengers.
Any business wishing to operate within Acadia, including tour bus companies, must apply for a commercial use authorization (CUA) and pay an annual $300 non-refundable application fee. That entire fee will stay in Acadia to cover the costs of reviewing and processing CUA applications and required reports, according to the NPS.
The NPS said it is standardizing CUA requirements and fees nationwide because, “currently, road-based commercial tour operators must navigate permitting processes and associated fees that can vary from park to park.”
Smaller buses envisioned
It isn’t clear how a restriction on the size of motor coaches, as called for in Acadia’s draft transportation plan, would affect the park’s revenue from bus tours.
Currently, the largest buses that come to the park are 45 feet long and about 12 feet tall. They can’t navigate some of the sharp curves on the Cadillac Mountain road without veering far into the other lane, and they must straddle the center line when going under some carriage road bridges.
“To improve safety and the historic character of Park Loop Road, only vehicles that fit the geometry of the road and heights of the bridge underpasses would be permitted,” the draft transportation plan states. “This requirement would apply to all passenger and commercial vehicles and would be phased in over several years.”
The draft plan does not specify a maximum size for tour buses in the future, saying only that tour operators would need to use smaller ones.
Park officials had expected NPS officials in Washington to give final approval to Acadia’s transportation plan this winter. But Superintendent Kevin Schneider said that process was delayed by the 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government in December and January. He said he expects the transportation plan to be approved and released to the public sometime this spring.