New tour buses attract attention in Oak Bluffs

The tour buses are wrapped with a vinyl covering that depicts a caricature beach scene. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Four new tour buses, now parked in Oak Bluffs and destined to carry summer tourists around scenic Martha’s Vineyard, are attracting quite a bit of attention from Islanders in the dead of winter.

The outside of the buses feature brightly colored Island-themed designs that include caricatures of swimsuit-clad women and muscle-bound men, beach parties, a biplane, and an enormous shark rising out of the water just off a beach.

“I just wanted to make it fun,” Scott Dario, owner of Martha’s Vineyard Sightseeing, told The Times. “I think they’re kind of whimsical. We’re a summer destination. That’s what I chose.”

The four new coach-style buses, parked in downtown Oak Bluffs for the past three weeks, will replace some of the hand-painted school bus style vehicles that have become summer fixtures on Island roads over the past 25 years. Mr. Dario said he parked the buses on property he owns, because he wanted to let people see them and get used to them.

“They got a lot of response, not all positive,” Mr. Dario said. “It wasn’t my intention to upset anyone. Some people said they look like Disney World. To be quite frank with you, that’s okay. I’m catering to families and kids, just to have a fun time. I don’t take that as a drawback.”

Selectman Greg Coogan raised the issue at last week’s meeting of the Oak Bluffs selectmen.

“They don’t strike me as my sense of Oak Bluffs in the summertime,” Mr. Coogan said. “It’s huge compared to what they’ve had, they’re quite a bit bigger.”

Selectman Mike Santoro said local business owners are sensitive to the issue.

“The Oak Bluffs Association is always concerned about the number of buses in town, how many people they’re taking out of town,” Mr. Santoro said.

Last year, Mr. Dario was the winning bidder in response to a request for proposals (RFP) that the town issued for the use of four town-owned bus parking spaces near Oak Bluffs harbor to stage the tours. The winning bid was $6,000.

For many years, Mr. Dario paid the town a fee on a handshake agreement, a practice that drew complaints from competing tour operators.

The contract was for one year, and the spaces will go out to bid again this spring. Town manager Bob Whritenour said the RFP could include wording to limit the style and size of buses.

“Last year we were upset that the buses were so old and rickety,” Mr. Whritenour said. “The board of selectmen is definitely in a position to have a dialog with the company owner. He is now going to have to respond to our RFP.”

Mr. Dario said the new buses will be safer and more comfortable for his tour patrons. He intends to bid on the town-owned spaces, but said if he is not the winning bidder, or the town puts restrictions on the size of the buses, he will operate from his own property, where the buses are parked now.

“I wouldn’t see any reason why they would regulate the size of the buses,” Mr. Dario said. “That really wouldn’t make much sense. If anything, it helps the Island. We’ve always considered ourselves an ambassador to the Island. If people have a more positive experience on our tour, it only helps.”

Mr. Dario said that the buses, which carry 48 passengers, are about three feet longer and 1.5 feet wider than the school bus style vehicles. He said they are much smaller than the 80-passenger tour buses that travel to Martha’s Vineyard on Steamship Authority ferries in the fall.

“I thought it was time to update the fleet,” Mr. Dario said. “They’re all air-conditioned, individual seats with climate control and larger windows.”

He said the buses have nearly the same turning radius as school buses and will be able to negotiate the same routes through Edgartown, Vineyard Haven, and up Island. Three of the buses will stage in Oak Bluffs, the fourth will meet ferries in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Dario said he will begin operating tours on Memorial Day.