The Steamship Authority (SSA) board unanimously approved an extended schedule for Seastreak, a passenger ferry providing service between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard.
Seastreak typically does not operate ferries into the winter, but is proposing service after Indigenous People’s Day. Under the proposed schedule, Seastreak would operate two daily round-trips between New Bedford and Vineyard Haven through Dec. 31.
The new schedule would continue weekday services into April, when the company’s license agreement with the Steamship Authority expires. The company also received approval to operate its off-season services to Nantucket on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Port Council unanimously voted to recommend going forward with the extended schedule during its meeting earlier this month, before the Steamship board took the issue up Tuesday.
“Right now, we have scheduling proposals that we’re working through with them to figure out the best way to avoid conflicts, particularly the slips in Vineyard Haven,” SSA general counsel Terence Kennneally told the board on Tuesday. Additionally, Kenneally said there is work scheduled this year for the Vineyard Haven slips: “We don’t want to have too much congestion at Vineyard Haven Harbor.”
Seastreak director of business development James Barker said the company was excited about the opportunity.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with folks on Martha’s Vineyard about demand this off-season, and our ability to fill that demand.”
Martha’s Vineyard representative and board secretary Jim Malkin described the opportunity as “great,” and said the Island welcomes it. However, Malkin wanted Seastreak to commit to being a reliable commuter service for the Vineyard. “I don’t want people to start changing their commuting habits, and then find that halfway through this … it doesn’t work out,” he said.
Nantucket representative and board chair Robert Ranney shared Malkin’s concerns about Seastreak’s commitment as a commuter service. “If you’re committing to commuters, even if the boat’s empty, you need to run it,” Ranney said.
Barker said when Seastreak initially received approval to run an off-season schedule, it chose not to do so because of the COVID pandemic, a lack in expectation for demand, and financial hardship for the company. “We’re in a better place now,” he said.
The board unanimously accepted the proposed schedule.