Ferry directors ponder fare hike, service cuts

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PORTLAND — After delaying a budget vote last week – including a proposed rate hike – directors of the Casco Bay Lines ferry service are expected to discuss their options during a series of meetings this week.
While the board is expected to entertain an option that would include a reduced rate hike combined with service cuts, at least one director said he thinks the board will vote at the end of this month to approve the substantial rate increase that was originally proposed.
“The different options, I think, are to illustrate the choices that are before the board, for the public,” Director Kevin Donoghue said.
The Casco Bay Island Transit District Board of Directors was scheduled to vote March 5 on a proposed $5.2 million budget for fiscal year 2010. But public outcry over a proposed across-the-board rate hike led the board to direct staff to explore other options for increasing revenue.
The proposed rate hike would have added $5 to vehicle fares, and 8.2 percent to freight and passenger fares. However, the passenger fare increase would have been in addition to a 50-cent fuel surcharge instituted last year. That surcharge was supposed to be temporary and it will expire in September.
Single-trip fare increases would range from 60 cents to 75 cents, depending on the destination island.
Directors have expressed various opinions about how to raise the $272,000 increase sought in the 2010 proposed budget. Some have voiced support for the rate increase, while others support variations of an increase.
For example, at a meeting March 3 of the Rate Committee, a couple of directors supported increasing rates, but dropping the fuel surcharge – even though the revenue from the surcharge is needed to balance the proposed budget.
The board explored reducing the ferry schedule to save money, but that option was rejected.
Casco Bay Lines General Manager Catherine Debo did not return calls for comment this week.
A special Finance/Budget Committee meeting was scheduled for Wednesday morning, March 11, at 7:45. On Thursday, March 12, the Executive Committee is scheduled to meet at 7:45 a.m., followed by the Rate Structure Committee at 8:15 a.m. The Finance Committee has another meeting scheduled March 25 at 7:45 a.m. And the full board has a meeting March 26 at 7:45 a.m.
All meetings take place in the Casco Bay Lines terminal conference room.
The budget has to be approved by April 1, and any increase in rates must go to the Public Utilities Commission for review.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net.

p-ferryrates-031109.jpgPeaks Island passengers disembark at the Casco Bay Lines terminal in Commercial Street. Ferry service directors are trying to decide whether to increase fares as part of their new budget. (Michael Barriault photo)