Possible schedule changes worry some Casco Bay Lines ferry users

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PORTLAND — Getting there from here can be hard sometimes on the mainland.

On the water it could be getting even tougher, with Casco Bay Lines officials seeking public comment on drafts of new service schedules General Manager Hank Berg said are intended to start Jan. 1, 2019.

Reaction was heard May 23, and will be again June 5 and 7.

“This hasn’t been looked at as a whole for a very very long time,” Berg said during the May 23 public meeting at the CBL terminal on Commercial Street.

Some changes, including ending a 4:15 p.m. run serving “down bay” islands, including Great Diamond and Long, drew criticism May 23.

“I don’t understand the schedule change, I don’t think it addresses the people,” Long Island resident Marci Train said.

The proposed schedules, online at https://bit.ly/2saSfvp, are drafts, CBL Project Director Paul Pottle said, with comments in the meetings used to understand how best to achieve a balance of cost and customer efficiency.

On June 5, officials will board the Bay Mist for 30-minute stops at Peaks, Little Diamond, and Great Diamond islands. The ferry will arrive at Peaks at 5:45 p.m., Little Diamond at 6:20 p.m., and Great Diamond Island State Pier at 7 p.m.

On June 4, officials will board the Aucocisco III and arrive at Long Island at 6:15 p.m., Cliff Island at 7:15 p.m. and Chebeague Island at 8 p.m.

Over the last year, Seattle-based KPFF Consulting Engineers analyzed fleet and scheduling needs. The findings are posted on the CBL website.

Pottle, who worked with the Maine Department of Transportation before joining CBL about 18 months ago, said the operations are unique because of the required blend of vehicle, freight and passenger needs between the city and seven islands.

According to the KPFF report, the initial passenger survey received 640 responses, with 589 online.

Berg said the responses were a needed starting point for findings in the report, although none of the schedule revisions are more than suggestions at the moment.

In fiscal year 2017, CBL reported more than 1.1 million passengers used the ferries, peaking at more than 200,000 in July and August, ebbing to about 35,000 in February.

The study shows ways CBL can increase trips in peak and off-peak seasons throughout the service schedule, while reducing labor costs by 1.6 percent through more efficient scheduling. Fuel and maintenance costs for the Peaks Island runs are projected to increase 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent respectively.

The study also projects a $67,000 annual increase in revenue for the Peaks Island service.

The down bay service changes could reduce annual labor costs and maintenance costs by $70,000 and $26,000 respectively, though annual fuel costs could increase by $30,000.

With a group of about 20 passengers gathered May 23, Berg and Pottle were reminded to consider the human costs of changes and effects on island living.

Train, a teacher at Long Island School, said she was pleased no final decisions had been made. But the proposed elimination of the 4:15 p.m. boat that includes back-and-forth trips to Great Diamond and Long islands is critical for students and parents, since children from Great Diamond attend the Long Island school.

Eliminating the 4:15 p.m. trip form Portland would also be a problem for middle and high school students from the islands who would be forced to wait at the terminal until 6 p.m. for a ferry.

Long Island resident Barbara Johnson said the overall effect would be felt at home.

“If we have to take the 6 p.m. boat, we will not be able to eat dinner as a family,” she said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Marci Train of Long Island boards the Aucocisco III on May 23 at the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal in Portland. Train and other residents said the the 4:15 p.m. service is essential to preserving island life.

Hank Berg, left, and Paul Pottle of CBL explain proposed schedule changes at a May 23 meeting at the ferry terminal in Portland. Berg said the entire schedule has not been reviewed for years.Better efficiency, reduced costs and passenger needs at Casco Bay Lines were all studied over the last year, and officials are meeting with the public to discuss the results June 5 and 7.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.