By DON CUDDY
NEW BEDFORD — The Steamship Authority is taking another look at the feasibility of operating direct freight service from New Bedford to Martha’s Vineyard.
The recent decision to retire the MV Governor, an aging ferry built in 1954, has prompted a discussion about ways to improve ferry service, according to Wayne Lamson, the authority’s general manager. Building a new vessel large enough to carry more truck traffic to the islands from off-Cape is one option the authority will examine, he said.
This would not be the first time that freight gets shipped over the New Bedford route. In May of 2000, a Florida company called Hvide Marine Inc. was hired by the Steamship Authority, under a $1.5 million contract, to provide round trips between New Bedford and Vineyard Haven as part of a pilot program.
That marked the return of an island freight link out of New Bedford after a 40-year absence. Regular freight service was discontinued in 1960. Its resumption in 2000 was a result of political pressure from New Bedford. An amendment in the state’s transportation bond bill mandated that New Bedford receive freight service.
At the time, the Steamship Authority, the city and island communities had been embroiled in a bitter dispute over freight service for years; Gov. A. Paul Celucci likened the battle to the Hatfields and McCoys.
But Lamson said the route lost money.
“As I recall, I think the revenues covered about 15 percent of the cost,” he said, with occupancy rates at 50 percent. “We had a fairly full vessel going over at 5 a.m and coming back at 2 p.m. after the trucks made their deliveries. But the 8 a.m. return from the island and 11 a.m. trip out of New Bedford was tough to fill,” he said, and the service was discontinued.
Francis X. Mahady, a principal in FXM Associates, an economic planning and research company based in Mattapoisett, said his company did extensive research on island freight service from the city 10 years ago and he remembers it differently.
“I don’t have any current numbers,” he said. “But all I can say is that, back then, we found it to be economically and logistically viable. It would have been favorable from an economic standpoint for New Bedford, the Cape and the island communities.”
New Bedford officials contended then that the program was rigged to fail and filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Steamship Authority’s monopoly.
Cape Cod towns, like Falmouth and Hyannis, also favored service from New Bedford because they hoped it would ease the volume of truck traffic on their roads. The new Steamship Authority study will be conducted in-house, is expected to take two months, and will look carefully at all the trade-offs, Lamson said.
In the summer, for example, each Steamship vessel makes seven round trips. But if a ferry moved to New Bedford it could only make three.
“So would building a larger vessel that used more fuel, but had more capacity, compensate for that? These are the things we’ll be looking at,” he said.
February 06, 2012 12:00 AM
By DON CUDDY