2011-05-14 / Letters

Requiring All Ferries To Operate Off-season Is Irresponsible

To the Editor:

Does the Mackinac Island City Council consider itself the equal of a body like the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) in its regulatory capability?

Regulatory entities such as the MPSC employ staffs, enabling them to acquire some expertise in the activity they are regulating. A staff can conduct the research necessary to learn how the regulated activity functions, its logistics, and necessary costs.

The Mackinac Island City Council’s attempt to acquire such expertise was to hire an accounting firm to conduct “research” based on the city’s demand for confidential business records from the ferry lines. Since the city offered no confidentiality for those records, of course it didn’t receive comprehensive data, limiting the usefulness of any input from the accounting firm.

The IRS provides confidentiality for financial information it demands, but not the Mackinac Island City Council.

The Mackinac Island City Council is requiring all ferry lines to operate from “ice-toice” (operate in the off-season), calling this requirement “fair” to all. In fact, it is fair to none. Requiring all lines to operate when there is hardly enough business for one line is illogical and irresponsible. How much extra energy will be consumed? How much in unwarranted additional costs will be incurred?

Did the Mackinac Island City Council increase its franchise fee from 2-2.5% to 7% only after thoroughly assessing of the increase’s impact on the maintenance of the ferry lines’ service and equipment, or on their ability to invest in new equipment? Will the increase cause competition to disappear as the viability of Mackinac Island ferry business diminishes?

Mackinac Island city officials have decided to prevent ferry lines from engaging in some ordinary and necessary business practices. The city forbids the ferry lines to offer free or discounted trips. The ferry lines may not give discounted or free travel to say “thank you” for community service or for a favor, to generate goodwill for themselves or Mackinac Island, to solicit future business from tour directors, or to encourage favorable words from travel writers.

All businesses have occasions when they feel it’s appropriate to offer free or discounted goods or services, whether it’s to generate goodwill, it’s good customer service, or just an expression of appreciation.

Would those city officials involved in the restaurant or hotel business support an ordinance forbidding themselves from deciding when to give VIP’s or friends a complementary dinner or room?

I see no provision in the city’s new ferry ordinance allowing the ferry lines to offer any fare refund in response to a negative event. If a boat breaks down in rough seas, or if luggage gets damaged, the ferry lines apparently can’t offer any refund.

Would those city officials in the hotel business support an ordinance preventing themselves from offering a full or partial refund to guests who had their rest disturbed by unusual disturbance like unusual noise, a fire, or a flood?

The city has chosen to enforce bad customer service, instead of encouraging good service to better compete with other resorts in a bad economy.

Hopefully, the State of Michigan will find a way to protect the ability of its citizens to enjoy their state park on Mackinac Island.

Maybe Michigan should follow Massachusetts’ example (for the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard) by setting up a Straits Area Ferry Authority. It could be paid for by a small surcharge on ferry tickets. The Authority could regulate the seasonal passenger and freight ferries, then contract with one ferry line to provide off-season service, subsidizing the service from the surcharge.

Maybe the Mackinac Island State Park Commission should begin studying the cost and feasibility of providing state park facilities for passenger and freight ferry service, whether by operating the services or “franchising” them.

Daniel Robbins Mackinaw City

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