The Maine State Ferry Service is back in the spotlight after a recent public hearing on the flat rate structure implemented last summer and a new proposal for fee surcharges.
Residents of the island community hardest hit by the new rate structure, Islesboro, filed a lawsuit seeking a stay on implementation of the new rates. The request for a stay was denied, but in response to the suit the Department of Transportation opted to go through the full formal rulemaking process.
Swan’s Island and Frenchboro residents fared better in the rate changes than Islesboro, and even saw some categories of rates go down a little, but they remain worried about the proposed surcharges.
Ferry service officials, for their part, are worried about budget shortfalls. State law currently requires half of the service’s $11 million budget to be raised by fares. The other half comes from the state’s highway fund.
Perhaps it’s time for the legislature to revisit that requirement. A comprehensive review of what it costs to run the ferry service, as suggested at the hearing, could include a recommendation for a different level of state subsidy.
It’s important to Maine’s identity that these year-round island communities remain viable, so it’s important to consider all the options to provide the services they need.