Updated June 27
Seasonal workers who depend on the bus to commute to and from work, along with Island business owners who see much of their business come from bus riders, are bracing for a strike by the VTA bus drivers.
Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, told The Times that despite some continued bus routes, the strike would have a significant impact on people getting to work and tourists visiting the Island, many of whom depend on the VTA for transport. She estimated 2,000 people with summer jobs use the VTA to get to work.
“It’s a really unfortunate situation, and we really wish the management company would come to the table and resolve this,” Gardella said. “We understand from the VTA they do have enough seasonal staff that the major routes will run. We also understand there will be impacts such as less frequent rides.”
This would be the second strike affecting the Island in less than three months. In April, Stop & Shop workers walked off the job in a strike that lasted a week. In that case, customers could either cross the picket line in Edgartown (the Vineyard Haven store shut down) or shop at Cronig’s, Reliable, or the Island’s smaller stores. There is no other public transportation on the Vineyard.
Local business owner J.B. Blau told The Times in a phone call that getting people to and from work is already “a huge challenge” for employers. He said some employees at his many restaurants have to structure their work schedule entirely around the VTA bus schedule.
“This is a real deal,” Blau said. “We have locations in multiple towns on the Island, and many of our workers work more than one job.”
According to Blau, the VTA strike has the possibility to be “a massive disruptor” to both employees and employers, but he said he will always support Vineyard bus drivers.
He noted the inconvenience of the timing of the strike, suggesting that the next two weekends are some of the busiest for his restaurants and other Island establishments.
Other than managers and car-owning employees giving rides and carpooling all over the Vineyard, Blau said, he doesn’t see an immediate solution to the issue, other than giving the drivers what they need.
“It’s not like there are enough cabs and Ubers to shuttle people around every day. And even if there were, that starts to get really expensive,” Blau said. He said people will still get to work, and that “there was a Martha’s Vineyard before the VTA.” But he said he would rather provide a victory meal to the drivers after negotiating a contract, instead of bringing food to the picket line for hungry strikers. “Just like we have in the past, we will support the Island community to the best of our abilities. We understand the bus is a lifeline for the Island, and we hope the drivers get what they deserve,” Blau said.
VTA administrator Angela Grant wrote in an email that although service will be disrupted, the VTA will still be running transit routes. She said the extent of service disruptions are unknown at this time. “We won’t actually know until people show up for work or they don’t,” Grant wrote.
Low-density routes (Routes 2, 10A, 11, and 4) and night service will likely be the most affected, according to the email.
Alexandra Gouleva, a J1 student from Bulgaria, relies on the bus every day to get to her jobs at Nancy’s and Red Cat Kitchen in Oak Bluffs. Gouleva wasn’t aware of the strike until VTA bus driver Katharine Kavanagh handed her a flyer while boarding the bus at the Vineyard Haven SSA terminal. Confused, she wondered what she would do Friday to get to her two shifts, and told The Times, “I guess worst case I’ll try to get a ride from someone … but I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Kavanagh pointed out a year-round bus user she called Chris, getting on the bus with a large bag of groceries in hand and his daughter in tow. Trying to get on the bus before it left the Vineyard Haven stop, he didn’t have time to speak, but waited long enough to be handed a flyer by Kavanagh.
Dana Wallace is a year-round Islander and resident of Vineyard Haven. She relies on the bus to get to her job at Edgartown Meat and Fish. “I have dear friends who work here, and have made great relationships,” Wallace said. While she has a license, she lamented the number of cars on the road this time of year, and added that she uses the VTA to support the drivers and the environment. “This is honestly part of the heartbeat of the Island,” Wallace said. “I feel badly for them. They have families they need to provide for.” Before getting on the bus to work, Wallace turned around and flashed her green monthly ticket, “and these aren’t cheap once you buy them,” she added.
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) international field organizer David Heller spent the day handing out strike flyers to incoming Island visitors at the Oak Bluffs SSA terminal. Heller handed day-tripper Bob Curran of Sandwich, a flyer, and was pleasantly surprised by his enthusiastic support. Curran, who is a retired nuclear power plant worker, is a fellow ATU member, and said he’s been involved in strikes his whole life. “I’m 100 percent with them,” he told The Times.
Janet Shaw, a visitor from Yorkshire, England, spending a month on the East Coast of the U.S., was visiting the Island for the day on Wednesday, hoping to “do the local thing” and take the VTA bus around to see the sights the Vineyard has to offer. “We didn’t want to hire a car,” Shaw said, and instead, they had done research and opted to take the bus. Looking at the leaflet she had been handed by Kavanagh, Shaw said she had hoped to support the drivers with her patronage.
Amy Thibault, external communications and community relations manager for Stop & Shop, wrote in an email that the company is aware of the potential strike planned by VTA workers this Friday. “We are currently working on a plan that will include carpooling and other means to ensure that our associates who use the service are able to get to work — and that there is no disruption in service for our local customers,” she wrote.
Josephine Brennan, Brian Dowd, Gabrielle Mannino, and Amanda Cronin contributed to this report.
Updated to correct Bob Curran’s job experience. — Ed.