ISLESBORO — A lot has been in the news lately about the Islesboro ferry rate increase, and I wanted to take the time to explain this issue from an Islesboro resident’s perspective.

There are three main issues that I would like to address: (1) process failure; (2) new rate structure inequality; and (3) the probable change in Islesboro. There is also a reasonable increase in fares that I can suggest.

NO CHANCE FOR FEEDBACK

With respect to the process failure, the Maine Department of Transportation held hearings on and solicited input from the various islands on a variety of rate structure proposals. Islesboro actively participated in the process – we wrote letters, reviewed and commented on many rate structure proposals and hosted a meeting on Islesboro to discuss the MDOT preference for charging out-of-state residents more (an idea that was ultimately abandoned).

However, the first time we even heard of the new flat rate structure, which takes effect May 21 and significantly increases rates for Islesboro residents, was when MDOT adopted it two weeks ago. As a result, there was no opportunity for residents to provide meaningful feedback on this proposal before it was adopted. Islesboro residents rightly feel that the meetings and process were a farce that bore no relation to the ultimate decision.

INEQUITABLE RATE STRUCTURE

Next, every relevant metric demonstrates that the new rate structure is inequitable. First, under the new rate structure, Islesboro will pay more per mile for a single round-trip vehicle ticket than any of the other five Penobscot Bay islands – approximately five times more per mile than North Haven and Vinalhaven and twice as much as Swans Island. While MDOT has said that the cost per mile system is outdated, there is a reason that it costs more to take a bus from Maine to New York than from Maine to Boston.

What’s more, Islesboro already pays a larger percentage of the cost of its ferry than any other island, at 66 percent. After this rate increase, Islesboro ferry revenue will cover a whopping 111 percent of the cost to run the ferry. In comparison, Swans Island revenue will cover 45 percent of their cost, Vinalhaven revenue will cover 36 percent of their cost and North Haven revenue will cover 34 percent of their cost – about the same proportion that each of those islands covers now. I don’t believe any objective person could find this equitable or reasonable, and Islesboro residents certainly do not.

EROSION OF COMMUNITY

Finally, this rate structure change will have a permanent and lasting effect on the Islesboro community. Currently Islesboro has no bank, no hair salon, no full-service medical facility, no dentist and one restaurant, which is open only two nights a week. Every errand, doctor’s appointment, haircut, dentist visit, etc., requires a trip on the ferry. Families with three children (over 12 but under 18) will have to pay $74 to take the ferry, when previously it cost them $35.75. On top of the direct transportation cost, the cost of all other goods and services – including heating oil – will increase. Note that Islesboro is the only island that will see an increase in the cost for freight trucks.

The compounding effect of higher ticket prices and the higher cost of goods and services will likely be that families leave Islesboro because they can no longer afford to live here. With the cost more than doubling with a single month’s notice, there is no time for families to adapt. Islesboro works hard to maintain a thriving K-12 school and recently opened a preschool. This rate increase has the potential to close the school within several years. From there, it will be a short time before Islesboro ceases to be a year-round community. If this happens, the ridership on Islesboro’s ferry and the corresponding Maine State Ferry Service revenue will plummet.

Islesboro continues to support an increase of all rates across the board by about 16 percent, the percentage needed to meet the $700,000 budget shortfall. All ticket prices should be rounded up to the nearest quarter to cover any loss in ridership and make it easier for line attendants to make change. Islesboro welcomes the opportunity to discuss this further with MDOT and other island communities.


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