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Cape Cod Ferry Troubles

What's Wrong With Ferry Service To Martha's Vineyard?

Marthas Vineyard Ferry
Gay Head Light flashes a red signal in Aquinnah, Mass., on the western tip of the island of Martha's Vineyard.
Mark Lennihan/AP
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Cape Cod Ferry Troubles

Barbara Howard: Ferry service between Cape Cod and the Islands is in trouble, with summer just around the corner. George Brennan is on the line. He's the editor of the Martha's Vineyard Times, and he's been tracking things. Hi, George.

Brennan: Hi, Barbara.

Howard: Five hundred trips canceled since just the start of this year, compared with fewer than 30 all of last year. So what is happening, do you think?

Brennan: Well, I do have to say you know the past month has been better. There was one real bad hiccup on May 5th, where the “Martha's Vineyard” broke down, and that's sort of the straw that broke the camel's back here. Because people got stuck on both sides, simply because the “Martha's Vineyard” lost power as it backed out of Woods Hole. That broken-down ferry and another broken-down ferry were taking up the only slips in Woods Hole, and so nobody could cross. The frustration just boiled over. It was a busy Saturday, lots of things happening here on the island, and people are really upset about it.

Howard: Your paper, the Martha's Vineyard Times, I imagine you've been talking with people who are, for example, retired maintenance people, things like that. Have you gotten a scoop about what the heck is going on with these ferries?

Brennan: Well, one of the things that we've heard is all these ferries are different. They have different ferries from different manufacturers. And there are some people pointing to that as a possible issue.

Howard: So, you're saying that the maintenance people who work on these, there are so many different kinds of ferries that they can't be equipped to know the ins and outs of every type of ferry and that the parts aren't as interchangeable. Is that what you're saying?

Brennan: Yes, that's right.

Howard: OK. Deferred maintenance, that's often a problem. Is that the case here?

Brennan: Yeah, that's one of the possibilities that's been brought up, is that they're not sending the ferries in soon enough for extensive repairs.

Howard: As editor of Martha's Vineyard Times you must be hearing a lot from your readers. What are they saying?

Brennan: They use the word "lifeline" all the time, and they really mean that. People are missing doctor's appointments, people are missing special occasions with their families off [the] island, and they want to see it straightened out. Because 15,000 to 17,000 people live here on this island, and they need to get off the island for various reasons.

Howard: I understand that the board of the Steamship Authority is meeting today. I can't imagine that they won't bring up these cancellations.

Brennan: Yeah, well the island representative, Mark Hanover, insisted on this meeting today being on Martha's Vineyard specifically to talk about the issues. There is a difference of opinion. Mark Hanover wants to see an independent review of what's been happening with the steamship authority. The general manager, Bob Davis, says 'We can handle this in-house. We'll look at it ourselves, and we’ll report back to the board.' But many people, especially here on Martha's Vineyard, are saying 'We want to see someone from the outside take a look at this.' This situation is unprecedented, and much of it is being led by business owners here on the island who are just really, really scared about what this could mean if this lingers into the season.

Howard: OK. Thanks for joining us, George.

Brennan: Yeah, no problem Barbara.

Howard: That's George Brennan, editor of the Martha's Vineyard Times, talking about the troubled Steamship Authority ferry service between Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. More than 500 canceled trips so far just this year. The Steamship Authority's board [is] holding a meeting today.

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