Casco Bay Island Transit District, known to most as Casco Bay Lines, is in the process of designing a new vessel for service to Peaks Island. This exciting time for our transit district has resulted in much discussion regarding the future of the island itself. Unfortunately, many comments disguised as “facts” have persisted in this dialogue.

For example, the notion that transit district staff previously instructed naval architects to design and build a vessel with capacity for 600 passengers is completely false. The board is the only entity with such authority. What staff did was provide parameters for the design, such as existing wharves and maximum vessel capacity allowed by the Coast Guard. This makes sense, just as you would not ask someone to design you a new building without telling them the height restriction.

Some within the Peaks community have suggested that the transit district should consider making it more difficult for people to get to Peaks in order to control the annual increase in demand. This is dangerous rhetoric. In fact, it is those among us who live on Peaks who will experience this difficulty most acutely – a fact that the crew knows all too well. The transit district is required to serve all customers, whether they are Peaks residents or a young family making their annual outing to the island. It has not been, and, in our opinion, never should be, the position of this transit district to discourage people from having access to the public islands of Casco Bay within the policy confines set by the Public Utilities Commission, the Federal Transit Administration, the state of Maine and the city of Portland.

It would be completely reasonable for a larger policy discussion to take place among these stakeholders related to the future of tourism on Peaks. And should any such discussion result in the request for the transit district to limit the number of people who could travel to Peaks Island in one day, passenger capacity could be restricted by board policy at that time. In the meantime, given the costs of continuing to run the Machigonne II and the two years it will take to construct a new vessel, it only makes sense for naval architects to propose a vessel for the transit district’s consideration that provides flexibility over its 30-year lifespan.

Many have assumed that a vessel with higher passenger capacity will be more expensive than a vessel with lower passenger capacity. In reality, the cost difference between running a modern 399-passenger-capacity vessel and running a 599-passenger-capacity vessel is negligible – the same goes whether it’s January or July. And certainly, either scenario is much more responsible than delaying replacement of this aging asset or proposing, as some have, that we should simply augment service to Peaks with an additional vessel on high-demand days. Which, by the way, is what we currently do: It’s prohibitively expensive, results in a much higher number of seats to Peaks than anything being proposed for this new vessel and, as a long-term strategy, could force an increase in fares for the first time in a decade.

Casco Bay Island Transit District is fortunate to have the opportunity to replace this aging asset. It is fortunate to have secured all funding needed for design and construction of the vessel – $11.2 million – and to be working with an excellent team of experts who have advised the transit district on the best possible composition of its fleet moving forward, and another team who will propose a vessel design that considers exciting, cost-saving options such as diesel-electric-hybrid engines.

And, finally, it is fortunate to have an active population of customers who feel a stake in the future success of the transit district – indeed, the public has provided input at nine different meetings. Because, at the end of the day, it is important for us to remember that Casco Bay Island Transit District is just that – one transit district with a vibrant and diverse base of customers, not a group of individual islands. We are intentionally structured so that our expenses are one and our revenues are one. That is the only way this model, enacted in 1981 to create the transit district, will continue to work.

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