Convenience is the ticket, New Bedford fast ferry riders say
Many of the nearly three dozen passengers who boarded the New England Fast Ferry (NEFF) Tuesday last week for its 10:50 am morning run from Oak Bluffs to New Bedford had one word to describe why they chose to use this travel option. Convenience.
The fast ferry currently makes five weekday runs. There is also a late boat Friday night that departs New Bedford at 9:30 pm and arrives back at State Pier at 11:35 pm. The schedule will drop significantly beginning October 13.
This week the company announced that it would suspend service from December 1 to April 1 due to a drop-off in winter ridership, primarily in the construction trades. The Steamship Authority board approved the change in NEFF's license agreement at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Riders interviewed last week cited the convenience of avoiding Cape Cod traffic and the rigors of parking in an outlying Steamship Authority (SSA) parking lot and boarding a shuttle bus to the ferry terminal in Woods Hole.
"From Boston it's less than an hour to drive to New Bedford, and you don't have to have the hassle of traffic," said Jim Souza, a Bostonian who visits Martha's Vineyard twice a year.
Adam Brill of New York City, visits Martha's Vineyard about 10 times a year. This was his first trip on the fast ferry. Why? "Convenience... ," he said. "It took three hours to drive up from New York City to New Bedford, which is much better than dealing with the Bourne Bridge on a Labor Day weekend." And, he added, "Flying up from New York City is too expensive."
Michael Scott of Washington, D.C., cited the "convenience and price" of the fast ferry for his two trips to the Vineyard each year to visit family here. Mr. Scott flies to T.F. Green Airport in Providence on Southwest Airlines, arranges for a town car ride ($35 one way) from the airport to the NEFF terminal in New Bedford and then hops on the ferry. Even though Southwest Airlines now flies into Boston, Mr. Scott said avoiding Boston and Logan Airport is a real plus.
Cindy Arendt of Oxford, Conn. said that if she doesn't need to bring her car to Martha's Vineyard, she takes the fast ferry, "It is much more pleasant, a lot less driving, and you can stop thinking sooner," she said. "It doesn't really make that much difference money-wise."
The 2009 fare is $35 one way and $70 roundtrip. At least until the company suspends service for the winter on December 1 the ferry will offer Massachusetts residents a discounted fare of $25 one way and $50 roundtrip. There are also discounts for children and seniors and commuter books are available that further reduce the fare.
The fast ferry travels the 27-mile trip distance in one hour. It is certified to carry 150 passengers and does so with a crew of three. Reservations are strongly recommended.
"Primarily we are the transporter of overnight recreational users, followed by the 'day tripping' users, followed by people doing work on Martha's Vineyard, followed last by the Vineyarders striking out for the mainland," said New England Fast Ferry Co. president Michael Glasfeld. Most travelers seem to be toting rather light loads - a small suitcase, a backpack, golf clubs, or the occasional leashed dog.
Chad of Westport, Conn., makes the trip to Martha's Vineyard once or twice a week and usually aboard a Cape Air flight, but he said, "When I can't get on a plane, I'm on the fast ferry. Vineyard Haven and Nantucket are the worst for flying because of fog, so then you have to take the boat... The unfortunate thing I heard is that it's not going to be going as often. People I work with are thinking about buying more Cape Air commuter ticket books, because then it's cheaper." Chad declined to provide his surname.
Daniel Riches, a Londoner making his first visit to New England with his wife, who is a return visitor, decided at the last minute to leave Newport, R. I., and head to the Vineyard on the 12:30 pm fast ferry from New Bedford. He told a Times reporter as he disembarked that he and his wife would have just enough time to see a bit of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown before catching the 5:15 pm fast ferry back to New Bedford from Vineyard Haven. Mr. Riches said driving from Newport "was the easiest route" to reach the Vineyard, and the "people at the visitors center in New Bedford were very helpful."
According to Mr. Glasfeld, when the service was initiated the economy was "going great guns" and people were willing to pay for convenience "and getting people off the roads was important to us." Now, when he speaks with potential customers, "sure enough now people are driving to Woods Hole to save money." Walk-on passengers from Woods Hole pay only $7.50 for the one-way trip; however, Mr. Glasfeld mentions that the Palmer parking lot is miles from the Woods Hole dock rather than the 800 feet from the fast ferry dock in New Bedford, and there is a $12 per day fee to park.
Glenn and Robin Morrell of Weare, N.H., took the fast ferry over the Labor Day weekend to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Oak Bluffs. They had intended to drive to Woods Hole and take the SSA ferry, "but our family talked us out of going over the bridge with all that holiday traffic, and since we were not going to need to bring a car this made sense," Mr. Morrell said.
"This worked out well...it's more expensive than the Steamship Authority from Woods Hole, but sometimes you sacrifice money for convenience," said Mr. Morrell.
First timers on the fast ferry, the Morrells agreed that it was easy to find the terminal in New Bedford, and parking is about a half mile away. "We dropped off our vehicle, and the shuttle was right there," said Ms. Morrell.
For Squire Rushnell and his wife, Louise DuArt of Edgartown, convenience translates to car rental ease.
"Hertz doesn't have a `rent a car' in Woods Hole or Falmouth, and they don't accept customers on a one-way basis...the fast ferry is a much better alternative," Mr. Rushnell said. "Hertz picks us up in New Bedford, and we are on our way."