Passengers disembark the Machigonne II onto Peaks Island on Monday. The finance committee of the board that oversees Casco Bay Lines is considering fare increases. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

One of the state’s largest ferry services is considering a budget proposal that would raise ticket prices, cut staff and reduce trips.

The Casco Bay Island Transit District’s finance committee will discuss three budget proposals Wednesday that include what would be the ferry service’s first rate increase in 14 years.

Casco Bay Lines’ initial proposed budget, without any changes to personnel or fares, is expected to break even, so it was not immediately clear why the proposal from the finance committee includes rate hikes and personnel cuts.

In a statement, Hank Berg, Casco Bay Lines general manager, confirmed that the finance committee meeting agenda includes a discussion about the 2024 budget, but would not answer questions about the details.

“A final budget and/or any proposals passed in committee would go to the full Board of Directors for consideration and approval before implementation,” he said. “We encourage public participation in all CBITD Board and committee meetings.”

Dave Crowley, board president, also did not respond to requests to discuss the budget and proposed changes.


Casco Bay Lines had just over 1 million riders in 2022 between the regular ferry service and tours. Of those, about 737,000 were traveling to and from Peaks Island.

Last year marked a return to normal for the ferry service, which during the pandemic saw ridership numbers plummet to 627,500. The figures from 2022 (1.06 million, specifically) are just slightly below 2019’s 1.08 million riders.

This is a positive sign for the quasi-municipal corporation, which is largely funded by regular ferry service. The remaining revenue comes from specialty offerings like cruises and tours as well as state and federal funds. 

The service is projecting about $6 million in revenue next year, up 6.2% from this year. But expenses are also expected to increase by about 5% to $10.5 million, leaving the service with a $4.4 million net loss. However, an increase in funding from the Federal Transit Administration is expected to make up the difference.

The agency’s 2024 baseline budget, recommended by staff, is fully funded.

But the finance committee is suggesting three additional scenarios to save between $1 million and $1.5 million – at the expense of staff and traveler’s wallets. The ferry service employs about 45 full-time and 90 part-time or seasonal workers.


In the first scenario, officials would increase the rates by 16%, bringing a round-trip Peaks Island ticket from $7.70 to $8.93 and a Cliff Island ticket from $11.55 to $13.40.

This coupled with a projected increase in tours and charters, would bring about $1 million in savings. 

In the second scenario, officials would raise rates by 10%, increasing a Peaks Island ticket to $8.47 and a Cliff Island ticket to $12.70. This option would also cut personnel by 12% and reduce the number of trips by 2.5%. Terminal security would also be cut by $200,000. This option would bring about $1.4 million in savings. 

The third scenario would carry an 8% fare increase, bringing a Peaks Island ticket to $8.32 and a Cliff Island ticket to $12.47. Personnel would be reduced by 16% and trips would be reduced 3%. This would save approximately $1.5 million.  

Passengers board the Machigonne II for the 2:15 p.m. run to Peaks Island on Monday. Passenger fares make up the bulk of Casco Bay Lines’ operating revenues, and haven’t been raised in 14 years. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Nathan Mills of Maine Marine Association, which advocates for workers of the ferry service, was unavailable for an interview but said the group does not support any reduction in personnel.

The timeline for major budgetary changes is tight – the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and the new one begins Oct. 1.


But there’s still a long way to go. Wednesday’s meeting is just the first of what could be several if the committee plans to move forward with any of the scenarios. The meeting, which convenes at 7:45 a.m., is open to the public and can be joined remotely.

Margaret Kelsey, 57, was disappointed to hear of a potential fare increase. Kelsey was a summer visitor for decades, starting in 1970, until moving to the island full-time in 2013. She said the increased summertime ridership in recent years should be more than enough to offset costs. She suggested the operation needs a full audit to justify any increases.

Margaret Kelsey checks her phone while riding the 12:45 p.m. ferry to Portland on Monday. Kelsey, who has lived on Peaks Island full time since 2013, and has been summering on the island since 1970, said she is opposed to passenger rate hikes. She said increased ridership in the summer months should be enough to offset costs. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

If passed, personnel cuts could mean problems for the ferry line, which, like others, has recently struggled with the tight labor market.

Last year, staffing shortages forced Casco Bay Lines to scale back its trips to less populated “down bay” islands for the last three weeks of the season. Trips to Peaks Island, the most populated of the six islands served by the ferry line, were not affected, but the service had to cut one to three daily trips to the others, depending on the island. 

Jessica James, spokesperson for Casco Bay Lines, said the agency isn’t facing the same staffing challenges as last year, and there have not been any trip reductions so far this season.

Simultaneously, the board of directors is trying to reduce vehicle congestion for cars coming on and off Peaks Island on Wednesdays.

For the last decade, the ferry has offered “Cheap Wednesdays,” when vehicle cost for the ferry drops to $36.65 from the $62.65 or $82.65 on the other days of the week. It was, according to Casco Bay Lines, “to enable island residents an opportunity to transport their vehicle at a significantly lower rate for medical and other appointments off-island.”

Passengers board the Machigonne II for the 12:45 p.m. run to Portland from Peaks Island on Monday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In the intervening years, “Cheap Wednesdays” have been popular for residents, visitors and contractors, resulting in extensive wait times.

A board subcommittee is seeking community input ahead of two working sessions beginning Aug. 23. The subcommittee is only considering solutions to the congestion issues on Wednesdays for the Portland side of the Portland-to-Peaks Island ferry.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story