The Steamship Authority board voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend off-season excursion rates until June 21 for both Nantucket and the Vineyard. The move was an effort to help ease travel burdens during the pandemic, particularly for people with medical appointments. The extension of the discounted rate for Islanders applies only to people who have an established excursion rate profile.
The subject wasn’t on the agenda, and rose to deliberation and a vote after Falmouth board member Kathryn Wilson brought it forward.
New Bedford board member Moira Tierney described the idea of the extension as “really important.”
Davis had originally floated June 14 as the end date for the extension, but Tierney suggested another week was appropriate.
Asked what the extension would cost, Davis said, “It’s roughly about $30,000 a week for every week that we would do it.”
“This is a kind of vote out of your heart, and not a good business decision,” Robert Jones, Barnstable’s representative, said. “So I’m willing to go with my heart on this.”
Ridership numbers still translate into a potential $60 million dollar loss, Davis told The Times at the end of the meeting. Earlier he’d informed the board the prospect of a $35 million loss might be in the cards. He later qualified that by saying it’s essentially a matter of perspective, presently.
“I was trying to be the glass-half-full type of guy,” he said of the $35 million estimate. “The glass-half-empty perspective is that if we were to continue with the same traffic levels that we have now from May, and just a slight increase each month going forward, we do still see that $60 million as being a possibility. Again, the four months of the summer, June, July, August, and September, are such a big part of our operating budget revenue-wise that it’s going to be the telling piece of it. Yes, the $35 million was if we’re able to ramp up — jump up to 75 percent ridership across the board.”
The board learned Coastal Marine Construction has begun repair work on the pier at the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal. Davis said the MV Katama transported the contractor’s equipment to the terminal on Monday. “I checked this morning; they are already at work,” Davis said.
He noted the pilings have been delivered, and are being stored in Falmouth until needed. The piling cap lumber is expected June 2, he said, which is six days earlier than anticipated. “We expect to be driving pilings early next week,” Mark Amundsen, director of marine operations, told the board.
Davis noted Vineyard Transportation Authority has been running service from ferries in Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs. He also said a proposal from SeaStreak came in to provide passenger service to Oak Bluffs while the terminal is shuttered. He described the prices as “prohibitive.”
For one of their smaller vessels, the company wanted “up to $11,000 a day,” and for the larger boat, “$17,000 a day.”
“In light of the governor’s opening plans, we don’t see that there would be a big surge of passenger increase for that,” he said. “And we do have sufficient passenger capacity on our vessels as is.”