Gridlock in paradise


Our beach time, our restaurant, our retail therapy, our soon-departing ferry, or our job site is a mere mile ahead. But here we sit on the Island’s summer roadways, so often immobile, staring at brake lights, hot, frustrated, and thinking once again, “Why can’t we fix this?”

The Vineyard is stuck at a crossroads, faced with a serious seasonal dilemma that affects everyone and is getting worse by the year. Must public policy be as static as our traffic? We urgently need all manner of public and civic participation to find common-sense solutions.

Here are five suggestions, some recycled, for emergency surgery on the Island’s transportation infrastructure. May these work-with-the-commonwealth proposals help spur the conversation as we seek to rescue our roadways from the souring reality of gridlock.


  1.  Establish affordable long-term parking in Falmouth or Catumet. This will help reverse many decisions to bring a car to the Island “because it’s less expensive than leaving it on the Cape.” This also eliminates the need to deal with the dreaded ferry reservation.
  2. Provide hourly, fast ferry service for passengers only. Twenty minutes each way. This not only speeds passage, but provides further incentive for leaving the car on the mainland.
  3. These first two suggestions argue for ditching the Steamship Authority, whose mission seems to be “Let’s ship as many cars as we can.” Ask the commonwealth to replace it with a Citizens Transportation Initiative dedicated to “making travel to and from the Islands safe, sensible, efficient, and cost-effective.” In addition to a passengers-only ferry and regular car service, the CTI might lease a new slip at Packer’s Wharf dedicated to freight boats.
  4. Investigate the cost and opportunities of a seasonal, solar-powered, storm-resistant  — invites creative use of technology and materials — light rail system from the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal to Edgartown to Katama, with three or four stops along State Beach. (A narrow-gauge steam train ran for 21 years on this route, ending in 1895, and a trolley line ran until 1918.) Invite the M.V. Museum to decorate the interior. A day at the beach? Dinner in O.B. or Edgartown? Simply walk from your hotel to the boarding platform. It also would help to remove alcohol-impaired drivers from the roads.   
  5. Limit the number of passenger cars allowed on M.V. (as Catalina Island, for one same-size comparison, has done with great success). Maybe one per resident? Two for each homeowner? Have a seasonal or monthly lottery, and daily waiting list for designated space on the ferries. And improve the bus, taxi, ride-sharing, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure, while we’re at it. Why not, for instance, add a much-needed drop-off lane for taxis and ride-sharing vehicles in front of the airport terminal?

Here’s to finding a healthy new frame of reference for Vineyard travel. Imagine overhearing one day, “Not only is Martha’s Vineyard a terrific place, but it’s really easy to get around. They finally limited the number of cars back in 2020, and there’s this cool new railroad that drops you right at the beach!”

Tony Balis is a writer, author of the book “RoadWise: Don’t Die by Accident,” and founder of the Humanity Initiative (


  1. Change with the SSA long over due! When year round residents can’t get off and back on the island during July & August…we have a major problem. The other issue I have is….there is little to no security!!! I can’t believe they allow such a soft target in this day in age. Time to make changes

  2. I don’t know if I’d ditch the SSA, but I do like the idea of an electric train to augment the newly delivered electric busses.

  3. You folks are a might delusional. There is no money. They didnt provide replacement costs for Tisbury school and now they cant afford one. Light rail on a small island? SSA just needs better managment and get rid of the union that demands too many workers at too high cost.

    • Andrew–let me address your issue here– it’s not the union that demands too many workers– it’s the coast guard– and their motivation is safety—
      let me put it this way– when I was in the navy, I went to electrical school to learn everything about vacuum tubes , conductors resistors , etc–
      if my ship were attacked, my position was essential– ( I controlled the position of the 5 inch guns relative to the roll of the ship, and pulled the trigger when the captain gave the order to fire) . However, I never saw combat, and my entire schooling, training and disciplinary training were completely wasted–
      But– if my ship had been attacked, I was there— I am not sure you should be the one to second guess how many crew the ssa needs on it’s boats to ensure the safety of the passengers in an emergency situation.

  4. Are you going to be the person who comes to my house and tells me ho many cars I can own? This is AMERICA, I can own as many cars that can I afford!
    The SSA does need improvement and as far as they make too much money? I know a couple of people that work there on the docks and I assure they don’t make too much money, I will say they have excellent benefits.
    A light rail on the island?? Do you want to pay for this with increased taxes just to have a few less cars? I sure don’t!!!!
    If getting off island is such a big deal for August and July, remember if it is a medical they will fit you in, you can always rent a car in Falmouth or put a car at Palmer Ave (they used to offer a seasonal permit, I’m not sure if they still do)
    There are options.

  5. I just checked they only offer off season (Sept – Dec) at a smaller rate.
    The year round rate is $650, so if you are making that many trips in the summer it would pay to keep a car there or you could share a car with someone and split the cost.
    There are options to getting off the island in the summer without making a car reservation. See my above comment.

  6. First of all, #4 is dead in the water. And I am not referring to our trusty SSA boats. #4 is predicated on the mistaken belief a train will keep drunks off the roads. If private operators are allowed anywhere near the thing, the fare schedule will screw us from the start. Extra fees after 11pm, extra fees on dirt roads (oops, that is how taxis screw us). DOS because a staggering number of jobs in the police houses, court, probation dept, our esteemed “House of Correction” (judging by the revolving door of familiar names, “correction” has never occurred behind its flaking paint. In other words, the economy depends on drinking, driving drunk, incarcerating those drunks, the probation fees,… too many jobs will be lost. Move on to other reasons, though it would be a nice sunny train journey.

    • If a tram is to be considered useful to get to/from the Oak Bluffs terminal and Edgartown, there must be space for luggage. Added, a beach route would be expensive as there are two bridges to expand or twin.

      • The answer to space is have enough cars in the tram so passengers aren’t packed, there is room for luggage and shopping.

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