SSA tables New Bedford freight route study


The Steamship Authority (SSA) members Tuesday tabled a discussion of a management recommendation not to issue a request for proposals to study the viability of freight service between Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford.

SSA general manager Wayne Lamson presented the recommendations at the boatline’s monthly business meeting in New Bedford. He said a boatline analysis had concluded the service would not be financially feasible.

New Bedford Mayor Jonathan F. Mitchell attended the meeting and emphasized that his office is ready to facilitate whatever the SSA needs to be as successful and profitable as possible, according to a management synopsis of the meeting.

New Bedford has upgraded its port infrastructure and has continually sought to develop its maritime links to the Island.

In February, management said it would conduct a study that would examine how best to replace the freight vessel Governor. At the same time, management said the study would include the economic feasibility of providing freight service between Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford.

At the time, Mark Hanover, the Martha’s Vineyard SSA board member, said the numbers would underpin any decision, including service with New Bedford. “It’s all about the economics,” he said. “If the economics are feasible I will support it; otherwise I won’t.”

According to a management report, the numbers do not work. The board tabled discussion about whether the SSA should develop a request for proposals from private vessel operators to provide freight service between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard, to see if such a freight service might be financially feasible or whether the SSA should investigate other alternatives, such as barging.

The staff, according to the report, “ultimately concluded that it would not be financially feasible for the SSA itself to provide freight service between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard, even if only during the peak summer months. The staff’s analysis was based on several variables, including the number of days the service would operate per week, the length of vessel operating day and the frequency of service.

“The total estimated incremental cost of operating the alternative New Bedford schedules from late June through early September ranged from $412,000 to $958,000 per year (not including any potential fees associated with the use of the New Bedford State Pier or any share of fixed costs such as marine insurance, depreciation or certain vessel maintenance expenses).”

In the late 1990s, proposals for service between Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford provided a political flashpoint that resulted in a brief trial freight link to the port city, and started a legislative battle that ended with the expansion of the SSA membership to include a voting New Bedford member.