The Rhode Island Fast Ferry, which provides high-speed ferry service between Rhode Island and Oak Bluffs, is canceling its 2020 season.
In a statement Thursday, the family-owned ferry company said its top priority was the safety of passengers and staff. “That priority has led us to the difficult decision that we will not be operating ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard this season; our entire 2020 season has been canceled. The layout of high-speed ferries is such that, even with socially distant seating arrangements and substantially reduced capacity, close interaction with other passengers and our crew is unavoidable. For the safety of our extended family and yours, we believe this is the right decision,” the statement reads in part.
While their season is canceled, the company’s year-round staff will still be employed as the company makes “major improvements” to their vessels and facility.
Customers with existing bookings will receive notification of the cancellation, automatic refunds, and emailed receipts. All gift cards and travel funds set to expire in 2020 will automatically be extended as valid through the end of the 2021 season.
“It’s like watching dominoes fall down,” Oak Bluffs Association executive director Christine Todd said. “It’s a family-run business, and I’m sure for them to pull the plug it’s not an easy decision.”
Todd said she’s still working to understand the impact of how the canceled ferry service will affect not only Oak Bluffs businesses, but every other Island town and the Vineyard Transit Authority.
“Clearly the businesses that are suffering already, to hear this … this is a pretty big blow,” she said. “It’s going to be a strange summer.”
Todd did say there was some hope with the Steamship Authority, which is expected to have the Oak Bluffs pier ready by June 15, ahead of its original finish date of June 22.
This all comes as other ferry services to the Island are altering schedules and implementing safety protocols.
Hy-Line Cruises, which provides service between Oak Bluffs and Hyannis, is expected to resume between Hyannis and the Island on Friday, June 12. Currently, all Hy-Line inter-island ferry service is being operated by SeaStreak, which is continuing service to New York City and New Bedford.
The Island Queen, which runs from Falmouth to Oak Bluffs, has temporarily suspended service from Monday through Thursday on its spring schedule. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday routes are running as scheduled, except for the 8 pm Falmouth departure and the 8:45 pm Oak Bluffs departure, which are canceled. The summer schedule, which includes ferry service every day, is set to begin on June 19.
The Pied Piper, which operates between Falmouth and Edgartown, is set to begin ferrying passengers on Friday, but is limiting its capacity to 45 passengers per ride.
All ferry lines have health and safety practices in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Passengers are required to wear face coverings while aboard ferries, and each ferry line has increased its cleaning and sanitizing frequency.