Miramant's Maine State Ferry Service improvements win bipartisan support

Posted: February 16, 2016 | Senator Miramant, Transportation

AUGUSTA — A bill to improve the state’s ferry service for the hundreds of island residents who rely on it won the unanimous, bipartisan support the Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Miramant, represents Knox County, including the island communities of Vinalhaven, North Haven, Matinicus, Criehaven, and Isle au Haut.

“For islanders in my district and all along Maine’s coast, the ferry service is their highway,” said Sen. Miramant, D-Camden. “They deserve a ferry service that’s as safe, reliable and customer-friendly as possible. This bill makes improvements to service on all those fronts.”

As amended by the committee, the bill — LD 1468, “An Act to Improve the Safety of Ferries in the State” — contains two components.

First, it requires the Department of Transportation to obtain an independent operational safety assessment of the Maine State Ferry Service, and to develop recommendations for safety and operations, including appropriate staffing levels, minimum required training and standard operating procedures for emergencies such as overboard passengers, firefighting, extreme weather and abandon ship.

Second, it requires operational changes including outfitting all Maine State Ferry Service vessels with lockboxes for the transportation of medical samples and allowing medical personnel to access the lockbox. New marine safety protocols prohibit the informal system of shipping samples that had been in use for years. The bill’s provision will allow islanders to send diagnostic samples to mainland medical facilities without a time-consuming ride on the ferry, while meeting current safety requirements.

Other required operational changes will focus on customer service and ferry crew training.

Miramant said the issues identified in the bill were raised by island residents, who said these commonsense reforms would make the ferry more responsive to their needs.

A safety review of the ferry service was conducted in 2008, which identified areas that needed improvement. However, no comprehensive review of the service has taken place since then.

The Department of Transportation has indicated its support for the bill as passed by the Transportation Committee. The bill now heads to the Senate for initial votes.