Vineyard residents and visitors today are whisked between the Vineyard and the mainland in as little as 12 minutes, thanks to more than a dozen smaller-size passenger electric and hybrid fast passenger ferries that ply the waters between Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, Menemsha, and Woods Hole, Falmouth, New Bedford, and Wareham. The most frequent fast ferries leave at 30-minute intervals. They are convenient, efficient, and environmentally friendly. One can board and disembark quickly. Fast ferry fares have fallen with competition among multiple ferry lines. Fast ferries are fun!
Fast ferries have brought other benefits. Daily commuters to the Vineyard save thousands of hours each year that they can now spend instead with their families. Day-trippers to the Island spend more time on-Island. Passengers to New Bedford connect directly to South Coast Rail to Boston. Others connect easily by rail to New York City and beyond. Fast ferries ease affordable housing pressure on the Vineyard, as commuters can readily come and go, and need not live on the Island.
Fast ferries are designed with the passenger in mind. Their smaller sizes and sleek profiles mean they can handle wind on Vineyard Sound. They are easier to maintain, with fewer moving parts in their electric engines. They have proven to be very reliable operationally. Vineyard residents can make doctor appointments and flights from the mainland without fear of cancellation. Strandings of larger passenger vessels in the middle of Vineyard Sound are a thing of the past.
Competing fast ferry boat lines have focused on innovative technology in designing their boats. Passengers have benefited from the efficiencies of free enterprise.
As vehicle gridlock grew on the Island, Vineyard residents voted in 2024 to limit the number of cars carried to the Island to 2018 levels. Vineyard Transit Authority buses now provide an extensive network of routes, and are free of charge. Because tourists can come and go so easily as foot passengers on the fast ferries, they are less inclined to want to bring their cars to the Island. The Vineyard once again has become a livable place. The Vineyard is doing its part to ease the world’s climate crisis.
Autos traveling to and from the mainland have the option of taking regular-speed, larger, electric and hybrid auto ferries between the Vineyard and New Bedford, in addition to Woods Hole. The New Bedford car ferry route has proven popular. It provides a scenic trip for those Vineyard residents and visitors traveling to and from points west of New Bedford, and a less stressful drive over the recently replaced, but already congested Canal bridges.
Disaster management planners are relieved that there are now multiple open and viable routes to and from the Vineyard.
As with the passenger fast ferries, auto fares have fallen as competition emerged among multiple ferry lines.
Freight volumes shipped to the islands have fallen sharply. The Vineyard achieved its net zero carbon goal in 2035, five years earlier than planned. Gasoline, propane, and heating oil are no longer needed, as the Island’s electrical grid now heats and cools homes with efficient heat pumps, and powers all the Island’s electric buses and cars. Trash volumes hauled off-Island fell due to ongoing efforts to recycle and compost on the Island.
Freight is delivered from a number of mainland ports, including New Bedford, Wareham, and Woods Hole. Fuel economies for freight delivery to the Island are realized with lower speeds for barge and freight ferries, despite longer distances to mainland ports. The days of burning fossil fuels simply to haul steel back and forth to the Island at passenger speed, in the form of hundreds of tons of steel truck cabs and trailers, are over. Truck drivers’ time is no longer an expense aboard the boats, as trucks travel without drivers on boats and highways.
Prices of goods on-Island, including food, have fallen due to the greater diversification of sourcing of those goods. Multiple mainland ports have led to a much greater choice of supplier and delivery options. That choice has led to more competitive pricing on-Island.
A majority of Vineyard residents work from their homes on the Island. Many commute electronically to their offices on the mainland. Competing passenger, auto, and freight private ferry lines are able to make a profit during the winter as well as summer months due to a large year-round population on the Vineyard.
American free enterprise has finally brought a level of ferry service to Vineyard residents and visitors equal to the one they deserve. Island residents and visitors ask why competition among ferry lines to the Island was not allowed to emerge decades earlier.
Residents and visitors now have multiple, forward-looking lifelines, rather than a single, backward-looking lifeline to come and go from the Island.
Nathaniel Trumbull is a Woods Hole resident.