Proposed diversions stoke hard feelings

Tisbury asks for ferries to be rerouted for Beach Road Weekend.

A request to divert ferries from O.B. to Vineyard Haven to accommodate Beach Road Weekend concert goers didn't sit well with SSA board members. - Rich Saltzberg

The Steamship Authority board received a report from general manager Robert Davis on Tuesday about ferry diversions requested by the town of Tisbury. Davis said the town wanted an 8:30 pm ferry diverted from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven to offset an expected high volume of departing concertgoers.

The Beach Road Weekend music festival is scheduled for Veterans Memorial Park from August 26 to 28. The diversions would cover all three nights. Davis said the town framed the request as a matter of “public safety.” He said the hope was for people to “walk from the festival to the ferry, rather than shuttling approximately 800 people to Oak Bluffs in about 30 minutes.”

“While it’s been verbally relayed to the staff that emergency services in Oak Bluffs supports this diversion request,” Davis said, “staff is recommending that we reach out to the Oak Bluffs select board … to determine if the town of Oak Bluffs similarly supports this diversion plan.”

Vineyard board member Jim Malkin took issue with the request to divert the 8:30 pm boats.

Over the winter, the SSA was approached by concert promoter Adam Epstein with a request for additional trips to accommodate the concert series, Malkin said. 

“After much discussion,” Malkin said, “we made it very clear that the Steamship Authority is not a charter operation for individual businesses or events …”

Malkin went on to say the SSA couldn’t rearrange its schedules, crew availability, and dock availability, and instead offered to refer Epstein to SSA licensees for chartering or other arrangements. 

“Now despite that conversation in the winter,” Malkin said, “tickets continued to be sold, the event continued to be promoted, and we now are informed that there are large numbers of people who apparently at the end of this late-August-heavy-season-time for the Vineyard, will be looking to get off the Island to go to Falmouth or Hyannis or a combination.”

Malkin added that Epstein was informed the SSA would not accept bulk passenger reservations, and it was suggested the festival might consider limiting ticket sales. 

Malkin emphasized that both he and Oak Bluffs port council member Joe Sollittto have gotten an earful from the Oak Bluffs select board and others about diversions for weather and mechanical problems that have already affected embarkation fees and local commerce.

“I find it disappointing that we’re now in a situation where apparently there may be a public safety issue raised by the number of tickets that have been presold to people — to an Island where transportation is problematic,” Malkin said. 

Epstein disputed what Malkin said during Tuesday’s SSA meeting. He told The Times that at the time of his conversation with Malkin, advance packages were already sold out. After learning there was no way to add a second ferry at 9:30 pm, Beach Road Weekend changed its ending time to 8 pm, so that customers would have two ferry options off-Island, Epstein told The Times.

Malkin said he would have difficulty backing the diversions unless the Oak Bluffs select board sees merit in the public safety assertion.

Peter Jeffrey, Falmouth’s representative on the board, said he “completely” agreed with Malkin.

Jeffrey said he had concerns about what effect the increased traffic the festival generated would have in Falmouth. Jeffrey criticized the music festival for what appeared to be a lack of coordination with Oak Bluffs or Falmouth. 

“Absent an absolute public safety necessity,” Jeffrey said, “I would oppose changing and diverting the ferry.”

Barnstable representative Robert Jones concurred with Jeffrey and Malkin. “I can’t support this,” Jones said. 

Chair Moira Tierney, New Bedford’s representative, said it seemed Davis had an answer from the board.

Davis said staff would find out what the town of Oak Bluffs’ position was on the matter.

“Do we even want to go that far?” Tierney asked. She cautioned it might leave the music festival feeling “somewhat optimistic.”

Davis didn’t precisely respond to Tierney’s question, but instead said he hoped staff could get a “quick response” from Oak Bluffs. 

“Well, I’ll leave that in your capable hands, ” Tierney said. 

Both Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz and Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jonathan Searle later confirmed they were in support of the diversions. Chief Searle said the alternative, bringing busloads of people to Oak Bluffs in a “rushed manner,” wasn’t a good idea. Chief Wirtz said that among other benefits, diverting to Tisbury is “also quicker, and there’s less moving parts.”

Oak Bluffs select board chair Ryan Ruley said he would reserve comment until he sees what information the SSA sends to the town. 

Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost and Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland later both said they were in support of the diversions.

Chief Habekost cautioned that without the diversions, the possibility of having a lot of stranded people existed.

Chief Leland said Tisbury emergency officials have had meetings with their counterparts in Oak Bluffs, and have come to the conclusion the diversions are both “necessary” and “appropriate,” but also that there is a need to plan so such a logistics situation doesn’t reoccur.

“It’s unfortunate we have to ask this of the Steamship Authority,” Chief Leland said.

He also said he previously tried to arrange to come before the SSA board to ask for the diversions, but was unable to make any headway. 

Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande later said he reached out to the SSA after hearing concerns from Chief Habekost and Chief Leland. 

Grande didn’t find the diversion request particularly extraordinary. “They do promote people to visit the Island, so they need to get them off as well,” Grande said.

Epstein later said the diversions are needed despite the music festival having a fleet of 40 shuttle buses on hand. The “safest solution,” he said, was to have folks walk down to the SSA terminal in Vineyard Haven, rather than stuffing them on buses with a ticking clock. He said it was safer for the concertgoers and for the first responders, and an effort to not only welcome folks to the Vineyard but to “show them off with grace, comfort, and safety.”

“This is no different a challenge than a weather-related issue or a mechanical issue,” Epstein said. 

Nonetheless, Epstein said, he was willing to compensate Oak Bluffs for any embarkation fees lost to the diversions. 

Epstein said based on collected data, about 2,600 people for each day of the concert will be headed back to off-Island accommodations. 

Epstein said that “the alternative” to three nights of diversions “presents challenges that I don’t think anybody wants to see.”

Beach Road Weekend wouldn’t be setting an event-related precedent if diversions were authorized. On Wednesday, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll told The Times ferries are diverted for the Oak Bluffs fireworks “due to the road closures” associated with the event. 


  1. Wow, beach road promoter has to deal with an organization which isn’t willing to rollover and beg, must be tough

    • He’s got some arrogant chutzpah, that’s for sure. I believe Jim Malkin, not Adam Epstein whose agenda is less than admirable. There’s a price to pay when creating a zoo-like situation, but he sold more tickets anyway. This is how the chance to make a buck, AKA greed, has ruined island life, especially in the ever-expanding summer season.

      ” ‘I find it disappointing that we’re now in a situation where apparently there may be a public safety issue raised by the number of tickets that have been pre sold to people — to an Island where transportation is problematic,’ Malkin said.”

      • The festival had already sold all of its tickets when i notified the SSA of the attendance on February 1. Jim Malkin was incorrect that we kept selling tickets after i spoke to him four weeks later.

        We are not in a public safety hazard situation. Both the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs first responders feel that it would enhance public safety if we did not have to bus festival goers to Oak Bluffs after the event.

        That’s it, wrapped in a bow. Nothing illicit or duplicitous. just a choice between two plans, A, to bus, or B, not to bus.

        Have a nice day.

    • Beach Road is happy to transport festival goers from the festival to OB after the festival on our shuttles at our cost. But, on the advice of the Tisbury Police and Fire Chiefs and the Oak Bluffs Police and Fire Chiefs, they all requested the diversion of the 8:30pm boat to VH so that festival-goers can just walk across the street to the terminal instead of rushing anyone on a bus between the Towns.

      We have also offered to pay OB any lost embarkation fees from the diversion.

      It’s actually pretty simple.

      • It could have been simpler if traffic and public safety had been seriously considered before selling out, but selling out is a way of life for some.

  2. Time for Malkin to re think what island life is. On another board he is on he wanted no more public debate on a subject. And now a festival that helps anyone who has a business on the island he gets in the Way instead of trying to help. This has become an island of NO and not let’s see how we can make this work.

  3. Mr Malkin,
    Back in the day the customer came first. These are your customers riding on the boat. Our public officials are asking you to divert the boat for the safety of those customers.
    The steamship diverts the boat at the drop of a hat when a cable breaks or the weather kicks up, Surely you can put together a plan to divert the boat with this much warning.
    Please, could you and Mr. Solittto please put the politics aside for a moment, listen to our public officials that represent us as you are supposed represent us and divert the boat.

    • I read the article differently, from what I read the public officials are refusing the accommodation for a private concern. I feel very well represented, if Beach Road is too big this year for the infrastructure in place, out public officials will be able to reduce the size of the event to fit the available transportation infrastructure moving forward.

      • Beach Road is happy to transport festival goers from the festival to OB after the festival on our shuttles at our cost. But, on the advice of the Tisbury Police and Fire Chiefs and the Oak Bluffs Police and Fire Chiefs, they all requested the diversion of the 8:30pm boat to VH so that festival-goers can just walk across the street to the terminal instead of rushing anyone on a bus between the Towns.

        We have also offered to pay OB any lost embarkation fees from the diversion.

        It’s actually pretty simple.

  4. Let’s look at what is really going on here.
    We have a situation where a large group of people will be looking to leave the island.
    They will have been here for a while, and would have spent money and presumably had a good time on our island.
    So — forgive me if I am missing something here, but it seems the dispute here is that Oak Bluffs will be out the 50 cent embarking fee .
    According to the article, approximately 2400 people over 3 nights would benefit from this.
    So O.B would be out about $1200 bucks that Tisbury would get.
    So let me put this in perspective–
    The O.B select board is willing to pack 800 people on busses 3 nights in a row. Operating the busses is not free- let alone the carbon footprint. This during a pandemic that the CDC has deemed the Vineyard to be at “high risk” and do it on a tight time frame rather than let those people walk about 200 yards to the ferry.
    For $1200 freaking dollars.
    Really ?
    In any world other than Bizzarro world, Tisbury would just give O.B the embarkation fee and be done with it. Or the O.B selectboard would just have the common sense and decency to just say yes.
    In all my years of commenting here, this is one of the dumbest conflicts i have ever seen .

    • Beach Road is happy to transport festival goers from the festival to OB after the festival on our shuttles at our cost. But, on the advice of the Tisbury Police and Fire Chiefs and the Oak Bluffs Police and Fire Chiefs, they all requested the diversion of the 8:30pm boat to VH so that festival-goers can just walk across the street to the terminal instead of rushing anyone on a bus between the Towns.

      We have also offered to pay OB any lost embarkation fees from the diversion.

      It’s actually pretty simple.

  5. As far as I can tell, this is all about who gets the 50 cents a head debarkation fee or about $1200 going to Tisbury rather than O.B.
    So the officials in O.B want to stuff about 800 people per night into busses during a pandemic.
    Am I reading that right ?
    Or they are resistant to this because they don’t like the Beach Road concert series to begin with.
    As far as the SSA not being able to divert, that’s just plain ridiculous.
    If everyone wants things to safe and visitor friendly, perhaps Tisbury could give O.B the $1200 and that would be that.
    Or perhaps it will be a little breezy , and the SSA will divert anyway.
    This is petty politics at it’s worst.

    • It’s as if people sit around all day and try to make people mad or make things more difficult, and for what? Why not just say yes for once? It feels good to do the right thing while helping a group of people put. Shaking my head at this one.

  6. Folks moving the boat shouldn’t be a referendum on the beach road event. It now is an event that was decided on by different people at different meetings. that ship sailed. We are now talking about public safety. We have made the decision to allow the people to come to the island. Now Mr Malkin needs to DO HIS JOB, help make sure these people can depart the island safety. If the head tax is an issue, say so strait up and work it out between the two towns. Because we all know the physics of redirecting the boat is not overly complicated.

  7. The SSA board is correct in not caving in to a private enterprise that failed to plan adequately.

    Not to mention, what about the people who have ferry reservations to go to OB that night? They get switched to VH? So they can get dumped in VH in the middle of a horde of concert-goers and then THEY have to drive to OB?

    Someone is not thinking here.
    You divert the route for an emergency.
    Not to do a favor for a private company.
    This would set an extremely troubling precedent and might also violate Mass statutes.

    ATE’s constant reiteration of the same snotty comment is kind of childish, don’t you think?

    • The Town of Tisbury is a partner and participant in the festival, so they are integrally involved in all plans, so this is more than just a private enterprise.

      Private enterprise did not make the request. So, you’re factually incorrect. You clearly are biased and unable to understand that the Town of Tisbury made the request because they prefer an egress plan that does not involve bussing guests.

      Two options for an egress plan were thoughtfully designed and embraced by all involved with the town and the Beach Road team.

      Plan A: Put 800-1000 on our shuttle buses and drive them to the Oak Bluffs ferry in time for the 8:30pm boat. This is the original plan that will be executed by BRW and the Towns.
      Plan B: The Town suggests it would be safer to divert the departure from Oak Bluffs to VH so people don’t have to be bused.

      Either is fine by me. The Town prefers the diversion of the ferry. I support our first responders and their advice and will defer to their decision.

      BTW, the only relevant precedent is that when a town requests a diversion from another town, it is honored out of respect and cooperation. That is what VH does for OB when OB requests a fireworks diversion.

      The only thing snotty in any of this is your NIMBY attitude. Some of us work hard to build partnerships and relationships. Clearly, you’re a keyboard warrior unable to engage based on the facts.

      • I don’t buy the notion that the Town is a partner/sponsor in this event. Giving permissions for the event does not constitute being a partner in a business venture.
        The OB fireworks are not a private money-making business venture.
        Regarding earlier diversions, I see only this:
        “The last Steamship Authority ferry during the fireworks will be diverted to Vineyard Haven, so as to free up the staging area in front of the terminal for handicapped parking and reduce traffic downtown. Current handicapped spaces at the police station will be used for extra personnel and command vehicle parking.”–

        and this:
        “OAK BLUFFS – The annual fireworks display in Oak Bluffs will result in some changes to Martha’s Vineyard ferry service tonight.
        Steamship Authority runs between Woods Hole and Oak Bluffs will be diverted to Vineyard Haven Friday evening due to road closures and in an attempt to ease congestion.”

        • You can keep arguing with the opinions of TIsbury and Oak Bluffs Police and Fire departments, but you should not make public safety decisions based upon your feelings about the festival.

          • I support your festival Adam, but your attitude and demeanor in these comment sections makes it increasingly difficult to do so. You display an attitude of entitlement that is quite off-putting. When your festival ultimately goes the way of the shark tournament, it will not be missed in the way that you think it will. It will simply be forgotten.

          • Rob Davis. Bingo. It seems the behavior matches the attitude. I actually used to support these concerts, before the idea put into action became too outsized, displaying a mindset that is, in fact, a detriment to the island. Adam must think there isn’t great music on the island without him. Great comparison to the Shark Tournament.

          • My comments are not based on my “feelings about the festival.”
            Obviously the festival is creating a logistical and even public safety problem.
            That is, in fact, the subject of the story.

  8. The SSA has often run special trips in the past for many reasons so why the diversion? Charge for the trip and get the folks who have hadplenty to drink off the island before there is trouble fighting and lawsuits…the hospital does not need the work the police dont need it either….they will be too busy handing out Narcan …..this should have been worked out long ago; this is not about head tax its about drunks who probably dont want to go home and this is the safest way to clear them out.Good luck

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