Fairer fares

The Maine State Ferry Service needs to raise more money from users of the service, under a state law requiring that half the agency’s budget must come from passenger and parking fees and fares. That’s fine. The proposal on the table, though, is not the right one.

Summer residents of Swans Island, who make up just over half of the taxpaying property owners there, do not count as Maine residents under the proposed new fee structure and would pay significantly more.

Ferry Service officials have said they hope the change will increase efficiency, making it possible to move ticketing and reservation systems online. They’ve also been saying that the two tiers should be seen not as a surcharge or a punishment for nonresidents, but rather as a discount for year-round Maine residents, who also support the ferry service through the state gas tax.

“The intent has always been that year-round residents have a discount, because it is a bigger cost for year-round residents,” a Department of Transportation spokesperson told the Portland Press Herald last month.

But even in January, the island communities are sticking up for their seasonal neighbors.

“On Swans Island, 388 of the property tax payers are nonresidents, and 387 are Maine residents,” said Sonny Sprague, Swans Island representative to the Ferry Service Advisory Board, when the proposal was unveiled. “They come from 43 states, and one lives in France … . We are all the same. They support our communities, and we are just going to stick it to them?”

Parties to this debate are weighing in at public hearings, in online surveys and elsewhere. Here’s hoping a fairer way to achieve the system’s goals can be devised.

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