An off-Island company is being hired to shuttle concertgoers to and from the Beach Road Weekend music festival in Vineyard Haven, but promoters say they would have rather paid an Island entity for transportation for the Aug. 9-11 events.
The head of production for the festival, Peter Sawyer, asked the MVRHS school committee for use of the school’s buses during the three-day event, but the school didn’t think renting the buses would be appropriate because the event has little to do with schoolchildren.
Despite being supportive of the festival, and sympathetic to the need for reliable transportation, the committee voted unanimously not to allow the use of buses to shuttle passengers to and from satellite parking lots.
Adam Epstein, CEO of Innovation Arts and Entertainment, told The Times he has signed a contract with Providence bus company, First Student Charter, but wishes that he could have kept the money on-Island.
“There are dozens of off-Island companies that rent school buses, but we came to the school with the mindset of, ‘Hey guys, we don’t want to pay off-Island companies. Let’s keep the business local, let’s help fund the school,’” said Epstein, who is a seasonal resident of the Island. “But it was the locals that really turned their backs on us.”
Epstein said they are paying around $90 per hour for the use of buses, drivers, dispatchers, and mechanics.
In total, 30 buses will be travelling set routes in Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Tisbury, and at the Airport Business Park, allowing for pickups every 10 minutes.
“We’d have gladly paid the MV school system $90 for their buses instead, which would have generated a $25 per hour surplus to the schools,” Epstein wrote in a comment. “For the 32 hours the shuttle system would be in effect, that would’ve yielded a $75,000 payment from us, including a $16,000 surplus.”
For Epstein, the festival is an opportunity to benefit the Island and bring “togetherness, community, and culture” to Vineyard Haven.
“In a time when people are so fractured, we want to foster togetherness and positivity,” Epstein said.
Sawyer told the committee he has looked at other on-Island bus rental options, including the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) and M.V. Sightseeing. But he said the VTA is going to be “straight out” during the summer, with all of their buses running at full steam to accommodate the influx of seasonal visitors.
“The festival is a great place for a walkup, but it isn’t a great place for parking,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer told the committee festival organizers would pledge to return the buses to the school in as good or better condition as when they received them.
Committee member Amy Tierney said the school usually only rents buses out to events that relate to children. She said the school has charged $65 per hour for each bus in years past, but more consideration would need to be taken to determine an hourly rate.
Sawyer said Beach Road Weekend was willing to either rent the buses directly, or make a donation to the school for them to use how they see fit.
Tierney said drivers need to get paid overtime if they work on weekends, which could present an issue for the school financially.
“Drivers are working all week, and then they’re being asked to work on Saturday night, they want the overtime dollars,” Tierney said. “Everytime we allow something to happen that is not budgeted for, it takes our expense lines over budget. Are we going into the charter business or aren’t we?”
Committee member Skipper Manter said he didn’t think the school should be in the bus rental business at all, regardless of who they’re renting to.
“These buses were paid for to transport our students,” Manter said. “It’s a liability-complicated nightmare to take these public buses and use them for private events.”
As far as liability goes, Epstein said, “These types of events happen all the time, that’s what insurance is for. If something gets broken, we have vowed to fix it.”
“We have a long history of doing concerts on-Island,” Epstein said. “We are professionals in this area.”
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said he is supportive of the festival, but said the circumstances are such that school buses might not be the most appropriate option.
“We get requests to use our buses a lot, and we understand the VTA in the summertime is out straight. It is a tricky one — you want to accommodate everyone, but this is a music festival, and there is alcohol involved,” D’Andrea said.
Sawyer said everyone who rides the buses will be screened, and if need be, there can be a monitor on every bus to make sure nothing goes awry and everyone behaves.
“We expect to have the same rules in place as when buses are used for school events. There will be a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol,” Sawyer said.
Manter said it is impossible to avoid some of the wear and tear associated with a large event such as this.
“No matter how much you promise to take care of these buses, there is bound to be some damage,” Manter said.
Although committee member Robert Lionette said he understands where Manter is coming from, he wondered whether permitting the use of buses for various Island events would fall in line with establishing the high school as a reliable community hub.
Principal Sara Dingledy agreed that the high school’s facilities and resources are unique, and could benefit the entire Island in many different ways.
She suggested establishing a fee structure regarding the use of space and resources the school has at its disposal. “It is the responsibility of the school committee to know who should be able to use our facilities and who shouldn’t,” Dingledy said.
Epstein said that the festival is not meant to just attract tourists — its purpose is to “move Islanders around” and promote local businesses.
“This is an Island operation, we really are doing it for Islanders. We are very confident in our ability to do this well, and would not be worried about putting a deposit down to be held accountable for anything that might happen,” Epstein said.
Epstein said he would be willing to negotiate with the school, and even pay more than out-of-pocket costs. “Tell us what price you would want,” he said. “We want to be generous and keep the money on-Island.”
One of the main goals of having consistent and abundant transportation to and from the festival, according to Epstein, is to provide incentives for people to avoid hopping in cars.
He mentioned how Beach Road Weekend will be reaching out to every bike shop on Martha’s Vineyard, informing them of their coupon deal.
Renters who ride their bikes to the festival get a coupon that can be used for merchandise or food during the event. Epstein said there will be a large parking area set aside specifically for bikes.