Committee mulls Chappy Ferry changes

The well-attended meeting covered rate increases and ownership transfer.

The Chappy Ferry Steering Committee discussed proposed changes to the Edgartown business at their Monday meeting. — MV Times

During a lengthy meeting via Zoom Monday evening, the Chappy Ferry steering committee discussed possible changes to the ferry service.

At its peak, the meeting had 77 participants. Committee members took up how to go about the process of potentially transferring ownership of the Edgartown transport, after a failed attempt by current owners Peter Wells and Sally Snipes to sell the business to a small group of seasonal Chappy residents earlier this season.

Many year-round Chappy residents pushed back on the idea of continuing privatization of the service, and advocated for the town to take it on instead. 

Committee member Rick Schifter said the committee had previously formed a subcommittee “to compare and contrast, and develop pros and cons” to a possible ownership change from private interest. He said there have been “some informal efforts on Chappy” to address the issue. 

Committee members discussed establishing further groups to help the process.

Town administrator James Hagerty noted the complexity of the undertaking, regarding possible choices of where to take the enterprise in the future. 

He said he reached out to the consultant that conducted the HMS study for the Steamship’s functions and operations a few years ago, for insight into the matter. This includes the benefits or detriments of ownership being public, private, quasi-public, etc., in addition to rates. 

Hagerty said a more in-depth analysis would cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

Additionally, Hagerty raised concerns about the subjectivity of individuals who could be tasked with deciding how to move forward, and suggested seeking professional advice. “If we have different subcommittees, results are going to be questioned as bias for whatever interests those individual parties have,” he said. 

“We’re talking tens of millions of property value on Chappy, we’re talking a seven-figure amount of a business, we’re talking all these factors,” Hagerty continued, “and if we spend $30,000, $40,000 to get someone externally to look at this problem and give us a recommendation, I think that’s the appropriate way to go.”

The committee unanimously agreed to recommend to the select board engaging a third-party consulting firm to review the issue and assess next steps. 

Hagerty said the expense would need to be approved by voters at town meeting. 

Additionally, after prior rumors of increased rates had become substantiated, the committee discussed proposed fare hikes put forth by Wells. 

Wells said the expense of operation has been equal to the service’s revenue stream, therefore an increase is necessary. He said fuel costs, inflation, and overall ferry operation and maintenance are all factors in the request.

He requested all fees be increased by around 15 percent, noting that fees have gone unchanged for a few years, with the last changes being from $12 to $13 for a vehicle fare in 2019, and $9 to $10 for regular discount book tickets for year-rounders. The proposed increase would be $15 per round-trip, and $11.50, respectively. 

Per his letter written to the select board, and presented at Monday’s Chappy Ferry committee meeting, Wells said, “The across-the-board rate increase will enable the ferry company to afford to add people to the current Chappy year-rounder program,” as there are now a greater number of people who qualify. 

Committee member Tom Tilghman said it would be necessary to find out the current operational costs of the service to move forward with decisionmaking. 

The committee subsequently voted to recommend to the select board a rate increase based on the Consumer Price Index from the date of the last fare increase, which “may result in different percentage increases for the different rates,” Schifter clarified.


  1. How about a bridge that doesn’t need to be operated by anyone? Anywhere else in the world would have put a tiny bridge there but now chappy people have to make it exclusive and then complain about ferry costs.

    • A tiny bridge would block the south end of the harbor from all but dinghies and very small boats. There is no room for a high clearance bridge leaving only the option of an opening bridge which of course would require an operator.

    • Tiny? It would either need to be fairly high to accommodate tall masts and huge yachts going under it or it would need to be a drawbridge that would have to open and close many times a day.

    • What about all the boats in the harbor?
      Draw bridge?
      Draw bridges are not tiny.
      Draw bridges are not cheap.
      Draw bridges need operators.
      What about thinking it through?

  2. Hopefully Mr. Wells gave concrete #’s and the Steering Committee asked for them. Without actual numbers, the thing is a fool’s errand. You can’t just say, “Ok, Pete, here you go!” How much is the fuel and what are the annual costs? Same with maintenance? Without these numbers, no one should allow anything to proceed and Mr. Wells should be considered dishonest if he does not provide the numbers and a rationale.

  3. The worst idea is to allow the town to take this over. I will vote against any money spent for a study that will show it should stay private. Public run anything is more expensive. The best plan was before you and you fought it, bring the plan back before the town and vote on it.

  4. Constraints that won’t go away will always require choices: Timely, Convenient, Cheap?
    – Choose two?

    It sure seem like the current costs do not meet the fees people seem most willing to pay. A bridge is not feasible as people have pointed out, and it would be cheaper to just to have all the residents of Chappy ‘be given’ amphibious trucks. Army surplus GMC DUKW Amphibious trucks sell for – $20,000 to $100,000.

  5. Build a tunnel. In Norway they don’t think twice about implementing the most intelligent and safest solutions. This is one of the richest counties/islands in the world. Do the smart thing and never have to look at a bridge.

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