A ferry in Penobscot Bay carrying vehicles and passengers from Islesboro to Lincolnville. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

The Maine Department of Transportation has proposed that Maine State Ferry Service ticket prices go up once again. Though department officials stress that the proposal is subject to change as input is gathered from users of the ferry service.

The new proposal represents a 17 to 20 percent increase over the current ferry service fee structure. The proposed rates are a flat-rate structure, meaning the same rates will apply across the Maine State Ferry Service system.

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“These rates are subject to change. The commissioner is committed to taking a fresh look at this and continues to welcome input from stakeholders. We are determined to find a fair solution resulting from a very open and thoughtful process,” DOT spokesman Paul Merrill said in an email Friday.

Under the proposal, the roundtrip ticket price for an adult would increase from $11 to $13; a roundtrip ticket for a child would increase from $5.50 to $6.50; the roundtrip ticket for an adult with a car would be $35, up from $30, according to the proposal.

DOT officials have said that an increase in ferry rates is needed to avoid a budget shortfall that new Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note has said is caused by decreased ticket sales and budget increases.

“These proposed rates represent what it will cost to continue to operate reliable ferry service given the decreasing ridership and increasing operation costs,” Merrill said.

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

The Maine State Ferry Service provides ferry service to the islands of Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, Swan’s Island, Frenchboro, Matinicus.

About a year ago, the current flat-rate structure was put into place, which caused serious complaints from residents of Islesboro, who saw their ticket prices more than double.

During the past year, residents of Islesboro have sued the DOT, alleging the department did not follow the proper rulemaking process when it implemented the rate structure. In response to the lawsuit, the DOT renewed the rulemaking process last fall to set the rates.

Faced with a deadline in the rulemaking process, a rate proposal had to be put forth this month by the DOT to keep the discussion going. Van Note met with the Ferry Service Advisory Board last month to discuss rate possibilities and gather thoughts from island representatives.

On April 13, Van Note will be on Islesboro for a public meeting to discuss the rates. At 10 a.m. April 24, another public meeting will be held in Belfast at the Hutchinson Center as part of the rulemaking process.