A ferry in Penobscot Bay carrying vehicles and passengers from Islesboro to Lincolnville.

The Maine Department of Transportation will put forth a proposal for a new Maine State Ferry Service ticket rate structure by the end of the month. But state transportation officials said the proposal will not necessarily be the final rate structure the ferry service adopts.

Last fall the DOT began a rulemaking process to establish a new rate structure for the ferry service following the implementation of a flat-rate structure in May. Due to the time constraints of the rulemaking process, a proposal needs to be put forth by the end of this month.

After this rate structure is proposed, the DOT will continue discussions with the Ferry Service Advisory Board and hold public hearings to gather additional comments from ferry service users. Deputy Transportation Commissioner Nina Fisher said this process is the first step in the “fresh look” that new Commissioner Bruce Van Note is planning to take at ferry service rates.

[Maine islanders tell DOT officials that ferry rate increase will destroy their community]

“[This proposal] doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be that rate going forward,” DOT Deputy Commissioner Nina Fisher said. “It will buy us time to gain some more comments.”

The Maine State Ferry Service, which is part of the Department of Transportation, provides ferry service from the mainland to the islands of Frenchboro, Swan’s Island, Matinicus, North Haven, Vinalhaven and Islesboro.

Following the implementation of the flat-rate structure last May, residents of Islesboro sued the DOT, alleging that the department failed to follow appropriate rulemaking procedures when it put the new rate structure in place.

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The flat-rate structure has remained in place since May and will stay in place through the rulemaking process.

Under this rate structure, there is one flat ticket rate for the entire system: $11 for a roundtrip ticket and $30 for a person with a car. Prior to the rate change, each island had its own rate, with tickets discounted on the island in order to save island residents money.

While some island communities saw their ticket prices go down or stay the same, under the flat-rate system, the fee for Islesboro riders increased more than 100 percent. Islesboro residents have said the drastic change in ticket prices has disrupted how they are able to go about their lives.

[Ferry fee hike has forced many Maine islanders to change the way they live]

The rate structure proposed by the DOT by the end of the month “might look much like the flat rate structure,” Van Note said in a letter to Ferry Service Advisory Board members.

“Please understand that this proposal will be fully subject to change as the result [of] continued input and deliberations,” he said.

As the rulemaking process continues, Van Note said he anticipates that other rate options will be considered, including seasonal rates, commercial vehicle rate adjustments and differing island specific flat rates.

DOT officials have said that a new rate structure for the ferry service is needed to avoid a projected budget shortfall, which Van Note in his letter attributed to decreased ticket sales and budget increases.