2012-10-04 / News

Mackinac Island Transportation

By Matt Mikus

Arnold Line Offers 5 Days During Winter

Details of winter ferry service to Mackinac Island are being worked out between the city’s Winter Transportation Committee and representatives of Arnold Transit, with one month remaining until the new season begins. To be resolved are the number of days the boats will run each week, with Arnold proposing five days and the committee proposing six, and some committee members arguing for seven. A $5-per-trip surcharge originally added to the ticket price will not be charged to Arnold Line season or resident pass holders who live on the Island.

The committee met with representatives of Arnold Transit Wednesday, September 26, to talk about the schedule and prices. Another meeting is set for Wednesday, October 3, to further define the terms of winter operation.

The city is paying Arnold Line $100,000 to subsidize the winter service.

Under the originally proposed contract, all season pass passengers would pay a $5 surcharge each way to help cover the costs of winter operation from November 1 through April 14. Now, while all resident or seasonal passes would be honored, passes from Star Line and Shepler’s would still require a $5-per-person surcharge for each ride.

The franchise agreement currently reads, “The charge for city residents for off season ferry boat service shall be Five Dollars ($5.00) per person one way, with any resident or season pass previously purchased.”

Arnold Transit owner Jim Wynn said he interpreted this clause to mean the boat line would be required to provide service to all resident and season passes purchased, but it may choose to charge up to $5 for a ride for any pass. He decided the company would charge any pass from another boat company, but not residents with an Arnold Line pass.

City attorney Tom Evashevski, who was not present for the meeting, told The St. Ignace News the surcharge was a contractual right, but if consenting parties agree, Arnold Line could waive its rights.

A citizen at the meeting asked whether non-resident season passes would be honored, and Mr. Wynn said that the contract only specifies Island residents.

Arnold Transit proposed providing service five days a week. They suggested skipping Sunday and Tuesday, but were not committed to that plan and asked for suggestions from the committee. The largest expense for the company in winter, Mr. Wynn explained, is staffing costs. Under their employee union contract, the company has to provide a 40-hour work week.

“Our biggest operational cost is in labor. That’s the way it is in any business,” Mr. Wynn said. “We had to figure out how to lower that labor cost. Our biggest cost in labor is overtime. If we have a five-days-a-week schedule, we can provide the 40-hour work week and not get into overtime.”

They also suggested that they could split one day off into two half-days. For example, the boat could run until noon on a Monday, have Tuesday off, then resume service on Wednesday afternoon.

Committee members wanting to see service seven days of the week did not offer any suggestions on which days would work better.

“The town is more concerned for service in November and December,” said committee member Jason St. Onge. “If you have to make cuts to the schedule, we would rather see more runs in November and December, and have it drop off in January and February.”

Mr. St. Onge also noted that he isn’t concerned about the labor issues the boat line has, that he has to represent citizens of the Island, and, in his view, Island residents are being slighted by losing two days of service.

Clark Bloswick, a committee member, said residents are losing services to the boat lines.

“We’re going backwards in the provided service,” Mr. Bloswick said.

In June, when the three boat lines met at Grand Hotel to resolve the ferry franchise issues, Mr. Wynn said, Arnold Transit chose not to provide winter service, and Shepler’s said they were willing. Yet residents and business owners asked Arnold Transit to continue offering winter service. He contends the discussions at the meetings and after the agreements were that the city was willing to go with less services, as long as the boat could run for as long as possible into the winter.

“We want to provide the service,” Mr. Wynn said, “but we don’t want to lose our shirt over it.”

Dan Musser III, who helped orchestrate the meeting at Grand Hotel that laid the groundwork for franchise agreements last summer, said he recalled the spirit of the agreement was that the city and business representatives at the meeting were willing to sacrifice a few days of service to help the boat line run late into the winter.

Still, Mr. St. Onge argued that the town residents were losing out, and the concern for him was to look out for the Island residents. He suggested a compromise of six days.

Mr. Wynn suggested that trips in the morning might leave later, and evening trips would leave earlier, to avoid compromised visibility while navigating the boats during the shorter days. Arnold Transit suggested moving the earliest boat to the island at 8 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m., and leaving Mackinac Island at 4:30 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. He suggested offering four runs a day.

Committee members did not voice any objection. They asked that the boat line present a schedule, including days of operation and hours of trips.

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