Northern Michigan Travel: Shepler's Ferry v. Mackinac Island

Northern Michigan Travel: The fate of Shepler’s Ferry is in limbo until 2 p.m on Monday. That’s when the Mackinac Island City Council and the Mayor will go over various franchise application changes Shepler’s requested on Friday.

Last week the Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to approve the franchise for Northern Ferry Company, a newly created merger of the Arnold and Star lines,  but delayed approval  of Shepler’s  franchise because Shepler’s would not accept Mackinac Island’s strict ordinances, which include a 24 dollar cap on ticket prices, tripled franchise fees paid to the city, and restricts free tickets.

Legal wrangling over Mackinac Island’s ferry operation has been underway ever since last June, when Jim Wynn, new owner of the Arnold Line, proposed his idea for a one-ferry franchise to serve the 450 year round residents and the estimated 650 thousand visitors to Mackinac Island for their Northern Michigan vacation each year. The proposal for a monopoly caused a controversy and lead to a nationwide furor, including threats from the Bay View Yacht Club to pull its famous Bay View to Mackinac Race off the island if city officials put Shepler’s out of business.  ??The controversy also led to the creation of several websites, including a facebook page called “Stop the Monopolization of Ferry Service to Mackinac Island”.

The Michigan Public Service Commission is investigating the way ferry rates and schedules are set on the island, and Shepler’s has filed a lawsuit against the city of Mackinac Island in Federal Court. ??Shepler’s is a three-generation, family-owned company, which has been transporting people to their Mackinac Island vacations for 65 years.  Vice President of the company, Chris Shepler, says his company’s opposition to abiding by the city’s rules is a matter of principle. 

“The ordinance takes the control of our company out of our hands and puts the control in the hands of a governmental agency, on a practical as well as a creative perspective. They are telling us what port we can leave from, when we can leave, and how many departures we can have. They’re telling us we can no longer give V.I.P. discounts or give out free tickets, and that we can’t raise rates unless the city allows us to do so. They’re telling us how to run our business.”  ??Chris Shepler says he’ll keep running his boats, no matter what the city says. ?

?Executive Director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, Mary McGuire Slevin,  says, “ I can’t imagine a future without Shepler’s.  I don’t think anyone here can. Everyone on the island is really hopeful that they’re going to come to an agreement and move forward as we approach the tourist season.”

Stay Tuned

Northern Michigan Travel: Update on the Shepler’s controversy, Monday April 11

Is the year-long controversy over ferry service on Mackinac Island finally over? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

At a meeting today ( Monday, April 11) on Mackinac Island, the city approved Shepler’s franchise to operate for the next two years. However, Shepler’s reserved the right to pursue litigation.

The dispute over ferry service began last June, when Jim Wynn, new owner of the Arnold Line, proposed that his company merge with  Starline Ferry and create only one ferry company to serve the island. The idea didn’t go over so well with Shepler’s, a family-owned company that has been running ferries to the island for 65 years.  Shepler’s alleged the city was conspiring to create a monopoly to put him out of business,  and filed an anti-trust lawsuit. The ferry fracas received media coverage across the nation and  sparked several popular websites.

As litigation continues, the city and the ferry companies have been haggling over the terms of  a new franchise agreement.  But as of today, it appears an agreement has finally been reached.

Daniel Cherrin, a spokesperson for the city of Mackinac Island,  says at today’s meeting, "Shepler’s complied with the city’s request and modified their rate schedule, thereby finalizing their franchise."

Chris Shepler, Vice President of Shepler’s Ferry, says though he now has a franchise to operate until 2013, he’ s still unhappy with the way the city runs its ferry operations. He says his company agreed to the terms of the franchise "under protest."

Tomorrow, in a Federal Court in Grand Rapids, Shepler’s is seeking a temporary restraining order to return the ferry  franchise to 2010 regulations.

Shepler’s is also continuing its pursuit of a Michigan Public Service Commission investigation of the way ferry service rates and schedules are set on Mackinac Island.

According to the new franchise agreement,  adult round trip tickets will now be 22 dollars, two dollars less than last year’s rate. Visitors to the island can also get tickets online for as low as 19 dollars a piece. Boats will run until 9 p.m in the spring and fall, and in the summer until 11 p.m

Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud issued this statement: "There is now real price competition between the ferry boat companies. As the weather breaks and spring is in the air, we look forward to a great season and welcome everyone to one of Michigan’s greatest assets."  

Northern Michigan Travel: Update Wednesday, April 13.

SHEPLER’S GETS ITS FRANCHISE

It’s full steam ahead for two ferry services to operate their boats to Mackinac Island. The City of Mackinac Island gave the green light to Northern Ferry, a merger of Arnold and Star lines, last Wednesday. On Friday, after a dispute over discounts, free tickets, and rate setting, the two sides finally reached an agreement, and Shepler’s was also given a two-year franchise. On Monday, Shepler’s withdrew its request for a temporary restraining order to roll back the city’s franchise ordinance to 2010.  Shepler’s said the order was no longer necessary because the company was granted a franchise. However, the company says it reserves the right to continue to pursue its case in federal court and with the state.

Shepler’s attorney Edmond Koester says, “Shepler’s remains committed to making sure Mackinac Island is served long into the future by a competitive ferry industry. Shepler’s is eager to have the issue fairly considered by the federal court and the Michigan Public Service Commission. In the meantime, Shepler’s will get on with the business of serving Mackinac Island visitors, as it has for 65 years.”

The dispute over ferry service began last June, when Jim Wynn, new owner of the Arnold Line, proposed that his company merge with  Starline Ferry and create only one ferry company to serve the island. The idea didn’t go over so well with Shepler’s, a family-owned company that has been running ferries to the island for 65 years.  Shepler’s alleged the city was conspiring to create a monopoly to put him out of business, and filed an anti-trust lawsuit in federal court. Shepler’s also requested that the Michigan Public Service Commission investigate the way rates are set on the island.  The ferry fracas received media coverage across the nation and sparked several popular websites.

As litigation continues, the city and the ferry companies spent almost a year haggling over the terms of a new franchise agreement.   Now, it appears the city, Northern Ferry Company and Shepler’s are on the same page – at least as far as the current franchise agreement goes.

Daniel Cherrin, a spokesperson for the city of Mackinac Island, says “Shepler’s complied with the city’s request and modified their rate schedule, thereby finalizing their franchise."

Chris Shepler, Vice President of Shepler’s Ferry, says though he now has a franchise to operate until 2013, he’ s still unhappy with the way the city runs its ferry operations. He says his company agreed to the terms of the franchise "under protest."

According to the new franchise agreement,  adult round trip tickets will now be 22 dollars, two dollars less than last year’s rate. Visitors to the island can also get tickets online for as low as 19 dollars a piece. Boats will run until 9 p.m in the spring and fall, and in the summer until 11 p.m

Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud issued this statement: "There is now real price competition between the ferry boat companies. As the weather breaks and spring is in the air, we look forward to a great season and welcome everyone to one of Michigan’s greatest assets."

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    Uhm, it would appear this article was out of date before it was even published. Another UP news website reported at 10am this morning that Shepler’s resubmitted their application and were approved.

  • Lissa Edwards

    Writer Mary Ellen Geist reports an update on this story at 4:49, April 8th, From Edmond Koester, attorney for Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry. His statement is as follows:

    “Shepler’s ferry franchise application is being considered by the Mackinac Island City Council on Monday. Shepler’s priorities continue to be serving Mackinac Island visitors and preserving a competitive ferry industry.”