Editorial : Opportunity lost
The fading service offered by New England Fast Ferry reminds us of the opportunity missed a decade ago, when New Bedford was pressing for service and membership in the Steamship Authority. At that same time, then general manager Armand Tiberio and then Vineyard member J. B. Riggs Parker were showcasing a plan that would have modernized the Steamship Authority fleet, reorganized its route system, and altered its marketing strategy.
There was vicious opposition, especially on Nantucket, and the forward-looking proposals got no traction. Antipathy toward fresh thinking among residents of both islands, and craven timidity among boatline members and their political sponsors, condemned Islanders and other ferry travelers to what promises to be an unending annual cuisine of rising cost of travel and no-growth Steamship Authority traffic.
Mr. Tiberio's strategic-minded executive leadership and Mr. Parker's business-minded approach to the ferry line were, in short order, history.
Too bad. As Tony Horwitz of Vineyard Haven writes in a Letter to the Editor published this morning, the New Bedford fast ferry offers traveling Vineyarders and their visiting friends and summer neighbors a good deal.
"Many Islanders are unaware that they are entitled to discounted tickets on the fast ferry, or that Town Car Travel provides reasonably priced rides of about 35 minutes between the New Bedford ferry dock and the Providence train station and airport," Mr. Horwitz writes. "In other words, you can read or nap for 90 minutes while being transported from the Island to Providence, rather than spend more money and an extra hour ferrying your car to Woods Hole, then driving and parking.
"I used this swift and reliable ferry/car-service combo to commute to a winter job in Providence, and often used it to catch cheap flights on Southwest at T.F. Green rather than battle in and out of Logan."
Mr. Horwitz points to a failure of vision and marketing on the part of New England Fast Ferry, but a share of the responsibility must be assessed against the Steamship Authority. There was a chance, had the boatline stepped up at the time, to build a fast passenger service between New Bedford and Vineyard Haven, either privately operated or as a joint venture with the Steamship Authority. It would have been a link in an important effort to integrate the Steamship Authority with regional transportation planning. Such an enterprise would have used coordinated marketing and ticket and parking pricing to drive auto traffic from Woods Hole to New Bedford, discouraging short-term auto travel to Woods Hole and the Vineyard. It would have helped de-congest Woods Hole and increase car space available on Woods Hole-Vineyard Haven ferries. And, it would have acquainted Islanders and their visitors with the transportation and cost efficiencies available in a service that bypassed Route 25, the bridges, and the traffic jams.
Indeed, New England Fast Ferry's disappointing entry into the islands market, absent a well-designed partnership with the Steamship Authority, was a venture destined to disappoint. The Steamship Authority's determination to do things as it always has condemned New England Fast Ferry to a late lateral move into summer-only status - a crowded market that offers Islanders little, takes a sip from boatline revenues, and exists mainly as a grandfathered reminder of the nimble nature of the private cream-skimming competitors, unburdened by the hold-fast Steamship Authority's responsibility for year-round service.