SSA receives no responses for freight RFP

The MV Katama was sidelined briefly on Saturday. -MV Times


The Steamship Authority says it got no bidders seeking to provide a freight transportation service for Martha’s Vineyard from an off-Cape port by the Aug. 2 deadline, according to a press release issued Friday.

The release stated that a request for proposals (RFP) was issued in March in accordance with a vote in September. The RFP was advertised in various publications, such as the Cape Cod Times and an email blast by marine industry magazine Marine Log that was sent to approximately 20,000 subscribers, and on the SSA website. Although the SSA received 47 requests for a full copy of the RFP, no proposals or requests for revisions were submitted. 

“I am obviously disappointed that we did not receive any proposals for off-Cape freight service for Martha’s Vineyard, especially after the many hours dedicated to preparing the RFP by our staff and community stakeholders. I firmly believe we issued an RFP that was clear, fair, and flexible,” Robert Davis, general manager for the Steamship Authority, said in the release. “I continue to believe that this new freight service can become a long-term part of the marine transportation network that helps us fulfill our statutory duty of providing adequate transportation of persons and the necessaries of life for the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.”

SSA communications director Sean Driscoll told The Times that the SSA asked those who requested full copies of the proposals why they did not submit bids. The SSA will consider the next steps after reviewing the feedback. Driscoll said reopening the RFP is still on the table, but the SSA is considering its options based on the feedback, which has not arrived yet. 

James Malkin, the Martha’s Vineyard representative on the SSA board, said he was “very disappointed that there were no bids.”

“I had hoped to help our friends in Woods Hole and see if there was a way to move freight and trucks to New Bedford from the Vineyard and back and forth,” he said. “I do think the Steamship Authority and its port council, and certainly management, spent a lot of time making sure that the bid package and the conditions were appropriate both for the Steamship Authority and the winning bidder.” 

Malkin told The Times it seems to him “the economics of running a year-round service” or a “specialized service” for Martha’s Vineyard is “very, very challenging.”

“It certainly is for the Steamship Authority, where we lose money eight months of the year and then hope to … make it back in the season and usually do,” he said. 

Nat Trumbull, a Woods Hole resident and frequent critic of the SSA, said he was “not surprised” by this result. Trumbull listed two main factors he thinks led to nobody submitting proposals. First, the lack of publicity. Despite what the release states, Trumbull said the RFP was tucked away on the SSA website and the amount of publicity about it was not visible to him. 

The other factor Trumbull mentioned was the RFP itself. The RFP “was very complex” and long at 74 pages. Additionally, he thought the standard the RFP set was too high and restrictive, making it “unnecessarily intimidating” and “uninviting.” 

“The Steamship would not do very well with their boats with this rubric,” Trumbull said,

Woods Hole resident Thomas Crane said the lack of bidders was validation the RFP was “written to fail.” 

“This is now an excellent opportunity for the SSA to interview the many parties that expressed interest in the RFP to gain insight as to what could have been different in the RFP to gain sufficient interest to submit a formal proposal,” he said. “Now is the time for the SSA to dig deeper and think differently, rather than throw in the towel and declare alternative ports a dead-end.”

Woods Hole resident Stephen Laster said the issue could have been “avoided with better leadership.”

“When one crafts an RFP with highly unfavorable terms and conditions, one does not get any bidders. Yet another reason as to why the enabling act must change,” he said. “The SSA and the people of MV deserve better. Woods Hole as a single port of failure lives on. It is only one accident away from cutting off all freight to MV. Just shameful.”

Regarding the restrictiveness, Driscoll said the RFP “encouraged potential proponents ‘to contact the SSA if they believe there are any provisions in the RFP that are too restrictive for a successful freight service for the island of Martha’s Vineyard so that the SSA can review those provisions and, if possible and appropriate, address any concerns.’”

“We did not receive any such requests, so if anyone felt the RFP was too restrictive, they were invited multiple times to address that,” Driscoll told the Times in an email. 

Updated with additional comments from other Woods Hole residents, James Malkin, and Sean Driscoll.