Maine State Ferry Service Reports Released

Goal is to understand current system and identify opportunities for future improvements

Lisa Millette
Posted 2023-04-28


As a Community Development Officer at Island Institute, Lisa has served on the Clean Energy and Sea Level Rise teams, providing project management and community engagement support. More recently, Lisa’s role has transitioned to focus on supporting the Island Fellows program.

National firm KPFF Consulting Engineers completed their reports on the Maine State Ferry Service (MSFS) in March, a culmination of 2 years of work collaborating with Island Institute, islanders, and the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT). This effort largely does two things: 1) gives a clear baseline of where the service is today in a format easily understood and publicly available and 2) opens the door to whole-systems thinking around where the service could go based on Maine islander needs and comparable systems.

This effort was launched as a response to the state’s joint standing committee on transportation’s request to DOT to review the MSFS’s operating costs. As stated by one islander served by the service in the Island Institute survey last summer, “the issue is a complicated one— and compounded by a variety of things.” Among the complications are fuel costs, seasonal ridership levels, state legislation dictating pieces of the MSFS, increased wind and storm events, and needs that vary between the six islands served, just to name a few.

Island Institute entered the study assuming a focus on fuel and personal costs, two of the higher cost items in the ferries’ operational budget. And while it is true fuel cost will be addressed through a focus on electrification following Maine’s Climate Action Plan (two hybrid vessels are currently in the works), other short and long-term priorities surfaced.

While the KPFF study focused on the long-term horizon, there were also notable short-term needs heard by the six island communities served by the MSFS. These needs included increased, timely, and more transparent communication around cancelations, delays, and vehicle reservations, as well as several suggestions for special ticket groups such as islander and senior only rates. Expected long-term priorities arose such as later runs for Vinalhaven, more round-trip options for Swan’s Island, and increased mainland terminal parking. A complex issue that was shared across all six islands served was the emergency services and the role ferries play.

We encourage communities to use these reports to help illustrate the unique accessibility of Maine’s islands and the important role ferries play for school, work, access to food and healthcare, and more.

Please see the below links to access the four full reports developed through this study:

The summaries of existing transportation and transportation needs by island have already been instrumental in preparation for DOT’s submission for Federal Transit Administration’s new Ferry Programs established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support passenger ferry systems as they transition to climate-friendly technologies. Early February brought the good news that the MSFS was awarded $28 million to build a hybrid-electric ferry, and close to $5 million to support existing services.

The Ferry Operator Best Practices review and MSFS Potential Service Scenarios have been purposefully left in draft form. It is our intention that these documents be used to spark conversation and highlight different opportunities (as well as their tradeoffs) for the MSFS and its cost structure.