Water taxi to provide down-Island service

Vineyard Haven is on board, but Oak Bluffs and Edgartown approvals still needed.

A water taxi has been approved for Vineyard Haven, but still needs the OK from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. -George Brennan

A water taxi has been given permission to pick up passengers in Vineyard Haven and ferry them to Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.

Falmouth Water Transportation Inc., which operates a ferry service from Falmouth Harbor to Edgartown each summer, is launching the new water taxi service aboard a 2006 Chesapeake 46-foot vessel, a former charter fishing boat, that has yet to be renamed, according to the company’s proposal submitted to Tisbury. The idea is to offer an alternative to overland transportation on the Island. Snacks and beverages, including alcohol, will be offered aboard the vessel.

During his presentation, Misha Strumwasser, general manager for the Falmouth-based ferry service, said the passengers will be limited to one alcoholic beverage during the short trips between ports.

Tickets will be $15 per person.

The service is scheduled to begin on Memorial Day weekend with five visits at each port. In the summer, it will expand to seven trips in each of the ports, which include Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown — though the other two towns have yet to approve the service.

No members of the public spoke during the public hearing, but Strumwasser did answer a question emailed by harbormaster John Crocker, who was not at the meeting, saying that the vessel’s 70-gallon holding tank for waste would be pumped out in Falmouth at the company’s headquarters.

“An inter-island ferry is something we’ve talked about for years,” select board member Jeff Kristal said. He called it a welcome addition. “It’s an alternative to taxis and Uber. It’s very exciting.”

The select board unanimously approved the water taxi. 

The taxi service still needs approval from Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty told The Times that Strumwasser has been asked to review his plans with the Steamship Authority and the town’s marine advisory board before bringing it for final approval to the select board.

In a phone conversation, Strumwasser said the SSA has reviewed the proposal and has no authority over it. 

Sean Driscoll, a spokesman for the SSA, confirmed there is no jurisdiction because it’s between towns. “The company has been in touch with us since they initially proposed service from Falmouth to Vineyard Haven at the February board meeting to review their modified plans,” Driscoll wrote in an email.

That plan was tabled by the SSA board, as The Times reported, with members expressing concern about the idea.

Oak Bluffs remains a sticking point for the inter-Island service, Strumwasser said. The town has asked the taxi service to find a location other than the town bulkhead because of repairs needed there, Strumwasser said. He’s still looking for a location there. “Our plan, as a backup, is to run the service this season between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown if we can’t find a suitable location in Oak Bluffs,” Strumwasser said.

In other business, the board approved a transfer of licenses for Mad Martha’s to Brooks Katzen. The board made the approval conditional because Katzen had not yet taken ownership of the businesses. The board also gave conditional approval for Garde East’s seasonal liquor license.

Meanwhile, Danielle Ewart was reappointed as the town’s shellfish constable, with the board praising her work.

Unlike the board’s typical marathon sessions, the board completed its business in a little over an hour, and spent about 20 minutes chitchatting while they waited for official public hearings to begin at their scheduled intervals.