ROCKLAND — A simplified, flat rate fare structure for all of the Maine State Ferry Service (MSFS) routes, including between Bass Harbor and Swans Island and Frenchboro, was announced Tuesday by the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT).
The new rates will go into effect May 21.
The changes mean that some passengers on some routes will pay more than they do now, while others will be charged less.
The round-trip fare between Bass Harbor and Swans Island, for example, will drop from $17.50 to $11 for adult walk-on passengers and from $49.50 to $30 for private vehicles.
Savings on the Frenchboro route will be smaller. The new flat rate for an adult walk-on passenger will be just 25 cents less than it is now. The driver of a private vehicle will save $2.25.
On other routes, such as the one between Lincolnville and Islesboro, rates will go up.
MDOT officials have worked for more than a year to come up with a new fare schedule that would raise the roughly $740,000 in additional annual revenue needed to cover its projected 2020 operating budget of $11 million. State law requires that user fees account for at least half of the ferry service’s budget. The rest comes from the state’s highway fund.
A big change in the ferry rate structure, which will help the MSFS raise the additional revenue it needs, is the elimination of discounted rates for tickets purchased on the outer islands, including Swans Island and Frenchboro. Currently, people who buy round-trip tickets on the outer islands pay slightly more than half the price of tickets sold on the mainland.
Mark Higgins, manager of the ferry service, said many people, including those who have seasonal homes on the outer islands but live out of state most of the year, have been taking advantage of what was intended as a benefit for year-round island residents by purchasing their ferry tickets on the islands. He said 80 percent of all ticket sales have been occurring on the outer islands, depriving the ferry service of much-needed revenue.
MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt said the new rate structure eliminates “the antiquated and geographically discriminatory rate pricing that currently differs from island to island and island to mainland.”
Higgins added that equalizing ferry rates across the MSFS “gives us a system going forward that’s much more functional and efficient and allows us to move into the 21st century with online ticketing.”
The MDOT said in a press release, “A key component of the new rate structure is an overall decrease of more than 10 percent to the truck/freight rates to help keep the cost to Maine businesses supplying goods and services to and from the islands competitive.”
In January, the MDOT proposed a new ferry rate schedule in which the official price of tickets would be the same regardless of where they were purchased. But people who showed a Maine driver’s license or other proof of Maine residency would receive a discount of nearly 50 percent.
The ferry service’s advisory board voted against that proposal, favoring instead an across-the-board rate increase of 15 percent. And nearly everyone who spoke at public hearings in January and February on Swans Island, Vinalhaven and Islesboro said they preferred an across-the-board fare increase.
In response to the public comments, Bernhardt said last month that he was reconsidering the rate schedule that the MDOT originally proposed.
Updated on April 18 at 3:45 p.m.