SSA hears strong support for fast ferry proposals

Seastreak, the fast ferry between New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard. — Martha's Vineyard Times File Pho

The Steamship Authority (SSA) heard strong support for the expansion of fast ferry passenger service by two operators now serving New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Hyannis at a public hearing Tuesday in Oak Bluffs.

Seastreak, which now operates seasonal, daily fast ferry service from New Bedford to Oak Bluffs, has applied to the SSA for a license to provide fast ferry service between New Bedford and Nantucket, a direct trip scheduled to take just under two hours.

Hy-LIne, which now provides seasonal high speed service between Hyannis and Nantucket, as well as service between Hyannis and Oak Bluffs and Oak Bluffs and Nantucket, wants to retire its traditional ferry, Brant Point, on the Vineyard route.

The company wants to add a higher-capacity ferry to the Vineyard-Hyannis run, and is also proposing to begin high speed service between Oak Bluffs and Nantucket. The new ferry would have a passenger capacity of between 300 and 350 passengers, compared with the current 149 passenger capacity of the Lady Martha, which now operates on the Hyannis-Vineyard run.

Oak Bluffs and Island officials present Tuesday endorsed the expansion of capacity and service. Mike Santoro, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, said his board was solidly behind the expansion of fast ferry service, noting it would bring people, not vehicles.

Rene Balter, vice president of the Oak Bluffs Association, said the organization voted unanimously in support, and noted Cottage City was originally designed as a walking town. She said pedestrians fit in with the master plan to invigorate downtown.

Steve Sayers, SSA general counsel, said an earlier hearing on Nantucket generated support for the New Bedford link. The SSA members are expected to vote on both proposals when they meet next month.