ME: Complaint may halt changes to Casco Bay ferry ticket prices

May 23, 2024
The Casco Bay Island Transit District last month backed an 82% increase in round-trip ticket prices and reduced prices for longer-term passes, benefiting residents and people who work on the islands.

May 22—The Maine Public Utilities Commission has opened an informal investigation into fare increases approved by the operator of the Casco Bay ferries.

The Casco Bay Island Transit District last month backed an 82% increase in round-trip ticket prices and reduced prices for longer-term passes, benefiting residents and people who work on the islands. Casco Bay Lines said its first price hike in 15 years is intended to offset a growing deficit as operating costs climb and revenue is flat.

The PUC on Monday launched a "summary investigation" that will not result in a binding order. Regulators could decide whether to open a formal investigation that would result in an order that could be appealed.

The transit district approved a $14 fare beginning June 1 for ferry service to the six islands it serves: Chebeague Island, Cliff Island, Great Diamond Island, Little Diamond Island, Long Island and Peaks Island. That's up from $7.70 for peak summer season round-trip tickets for Peaks Island and higher rates for the other islands, capping off at $11.55 for Cliff Island.

Regulators said the rate changes would go into effect unless 50 ratepayers asked in writing that the PUC investigate. Peaks Island summer resident Andrew Doukas urged the PUC to reject what he called an "unfair rate schedule" and submitted a petition signed by nearly five dozen others asking regulators to intervene.

In a filing with the PUC, Doukas downplayed the deficit cited by the ferry operator.

"Public transportation districts typically operate at a loss, subsidized by government grants that are intended to maintain functionality," he said. "There is a public interest in keeping buses, airports, ferry boats and rail systems running."

Nick Mavodones, the operations manager at Casco Bay Lines, did not return a call Wednesday to comment on the PUC investigation or Doukas' assertions.

Doukas told regulators he supports efforts to "realign rates to reflect the rising costs" of operating the ferry but opposes the new rates. He questioned the transit district's argument for raising revenue as it cuts the cost of monthly and annual passes.

He accused the transit district's board of trying to reduce the number of visitors to Peaks Island, "while giving residents the benefit of the increased revenues."

And Doukas said a revenue surplus in the summer typically makes up for losses in the winter. The transit district's board has not considered cutting operating costs in the winter to close the deficit, he said.

This is not the first time Doukas has petitioned state regulators to block changes to Casco Bay Lines' rates. In 2021, he submitted a complaint about a proposal to offer priority boarding to island residents for an extra $10 a year, saying he didn't want Peaks Island to become "a gated community."

Jennifer Lavanture, the transit district's treasurer, said last month that the ferry line's operating loss has been "growing out of bounds and really unacceptably" for a number of years as expenses nearly doubled the rate of inflation. The agency's fiscal year 2024 budget featured a roughly $4.3 million deficit but broke even with an increase in grant funding.

Board member Joe Donovan said in April that he hopes half-price tickets to children under 18 — instead of those under 14 — will help encourage more families to live on the islands. Seniors and people with disabilities, who already qualify for half-price tickets, will continue to be eligible for lower fares.

The new rate structure would include the $14 flat rate for adults in peak season and a $7 rate for seniors, people with disabilities, and children between 5 and 17 years old. Reduced fares of $7.20 and $3.60 would be available in the offseason.

The proposal eliminates commuter books — blocks of five discounted tickets — which were subject to abuse by people using them for group discounts.


(c)2024 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)

Visit the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.