A ferry enters Rockland Harbor Monday February 25, 2019. Credit: Gabor Degre

The Maine State Ferry Service will likely eliminate the flat-rate ticket structure that has generated frustration among islanders during the past year, according to a proposal released by the Maine Department of Transportation earlier this month.

The proposal comes more than a year after the Maine DOT — which operates the ferry service — implemented the flat-rate structure, which more than doubled the ticket costs for residents of Islesboro, one of seven island communities the state ferries serve.

Last fall, after a lawsuit was filed by residents of Islesboro, state transportation officials renewed the rate-setting process through formal rulemaking.

To keep the rulemaking process going, a preliminary proposal was introduced this spring. However, the proposal sent to Maine State Ferry Advisory Board members July 10 “will form the core of the rates that [the DOT] will publish for the formal rulemaking process later this month,” Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note said in an email to board members.

The latest proposal does away with the flat-rate ticket structure and instead uses a mix of seasonal rates and varying rates based on which island is the passenger’s destination. The proposed rate structure also includes discounted tickets for commuters, reducing restrictions on trips that qualify for medical exemption as well as allowing teachers to ride the ferry for free when travelling to school or to school functions.

The proposal includes a number of suggestions that were mentioned by island residents during meetings with Van Note this spring.

“It has become clear that different islands have different perspectives, that there can be different definitions of ‘fair’ even on the same island and that no proposal will be universally supported. Given this reality, it is the duty and responsibility of MaineDOT and the MSFS to consider these various views and come up with a reasonable and balanced proposal. We believe we have done so, and hope that all participants will agree that the process was open and fair, and that all have been heard and respected,” the proposal states.

Since taking over as transportation commissioner earlier this year, Van Note has said he wanted to take a “fresh look” at the rate structure. He has said that the previous rate-setting process was not fair to residents of Islesboro. However, Van Note has maintained that in order to increase revenue and avoid a budget shortfall, ticket prices have to go up.

Under the current flat-rate structure, passengers pay one price regardless of their destination: $11 for a roundtrip ticket and $30 for a person with a car.

According to the latest proposal, from October to May — the “off-peak” season — tickets for Islesboro would be $8 for adult passengers, $4 for minor passengers (under 18), $22 for a vehicle with a driver and a reservation rate of $20.

For Vinalhaven, North Haven, Swan’s Island and Frenchboro, off-peak rates would be $12.50 for adult passengers, $6.25 for minor passengers, $31 for a vehicle with a driver and a reservation fee of $12.

During the peak summer months, June through September, an additional $5 would be added to passenger tickets and $7.50 to vehicle tickets.

Mantinicus, which is located farthest from the mainland, would have a year-round rate of $30 for adult passengers, $15 for minor passengers, and $80 for a vehicle with a driver and reservation.

The DOT is accepting comments on the proposal until the end of the business day Friday. However, when the proposal is put forth later this month through the formal rulemaking process, there will be another opportunity for the public to submit comments. A public hearing will also be held on the proposal.

The proposal states that the new ticket structure could be in place by Oct. 1.