Comment works



Submitting public comment on a government proposal is not many people’s idea of a good time, but all those who commented on the National Park Service proposed entrance fees or the Maine State Ferry Service fares can pat themselves on the back. Final decisions in both cases came back substantially better, thanks to the public feedback.

In both cases, the government agencies must raise revenue to provide services and maintain infrastructure in the face of rising costs. It’s fair for fees to go up periodically, alongside the prices of other goods and services.

Entrance fees at most national parks — those where they are charged at all — had not budged in decades.

The final decision on the park entrance fees announced two weeks ago is a much better plan than the original proposal that raised so many eyebrows — and hackles — here last fall. That plan would have sharply targeted Acadia National Park and 16 other most-visited parks as the only ones to be hit with entrance fee increases, and then only in the busiest part of the season. The fees in that proposal were nearly triple current rates, a substantial enough increase to provoke worry that middle- and lower-income families would have a harder time enjoying these public resources.

Instead, the Department of the Interior opted to spread the increase over all the National Park Service units that charge entrance fees. The smaller increase at more destinations is much fairer than a “surge” pricing solution, perhaps inspired by Uber and Airbnb.

The Maine State Ferry Service, too, appears to have carefully considered public feedback in adjusting fee schedules for its services. Kudos to everyone who traveled to meetings and submitted comments.

“You have to have money to run the ferry service,” said Sonny Sprague, who represents Swans Island on a ferry service advisory panel. “And even though people don’t like increases in anything, it was necessary. And it isn’t horrible, not as bad as I thought it might be.”

The Ferry Service moved away from a plan to give Maine residents a steep discount, which islanders worried might drive a wedge between summer and year-round residents. Some routes will see sharper increases, but in those cases, fares had been far less than the rest of the system. The new rates are simpler and fairer, and will allow for more integration of technology and online service.

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