Ferry schedule to stay the same in 2014
Ferry company Interstate Navigation plans to keep its 2014 schedule relatively similar to this past year, according to Interstate Attorney Michael McElroy.
This announcement came at a Town Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 16, despite some requests from residents and councilors to increase weekday service.
The meeting, which occurs once per year between the council and Interstate, lasted just under an hour and briefly touched upon the boat schedule and several other updates. McElroy presented information and answered questions, but three additional Interstate representatives attended: Vice President Josh Linda, General Manager Ray Linda, and Ticket Officer Manager Janette Centracchio.
“We need a better year-round schedule,” said Councilor Norris Pike. “My hope is to increase the service a little more, and it seems we could stimulate our year-round economy... I think it would go a long way to getting people to come to the island.”
This past winter (January through March), there was limited weekday service. For example, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays the ferry departed Point Judith at 10 a.m., and departed Block Island at 2:30 p.m. The schedule changes depending on the seasons and holidays.
McElroy said the 2014 schedule would not vary much from previous years.
“We’re not reducing the schedule,” said McElroy. “We can’t make the schedule exactly the same because of holidays, but the level of service is going to be relatively the same.”
McElroy said there were “practical problems” to increasing the winter schedule. “The winter service is paid for by people taking the boat in the summer,” he said. “There are only so many runs we can take in the winter when the ferry is close to empty.”
Island resident Everett Shorey suggested that Interstate perform an analysis to determine the cost of adding another run in the wintertime.
At first, McElroy expressed reluctance to perform this analysis, stating it would “be expensive to perform.” However, Councilor Chris Warfel said this should not cost Interstate much money if it uses existing financial data.
“The Town Council has been trying to develop a way to increase the town’s year-round economy. I think adding an extra boat would do that,” said Warfel.
“The big concern is the boat schedule on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’d suggest start by tweaking the boat schedule,” said Margie Comings, representing the Old Harbor Task Force. Comings said a mainland doctor’s appointment in the middle of the week requires a two- or three-day trip, because of the winter schedule.
Second Warden Ken Lacoste suggested polling island residents to get a better idea of what schedules they would prefer.
“One question you should ask is, ‘what are you willing to give up for a better schedule,’” said island resident Cliff McGinnes, referring to McElroy’s point that Interstate would need to increase revenue if it increased the boat schedule.
Not all island residents agreed with the sentiment to change the winter schedule. Members from the Block Island School Committee said the boat’s schedule is already coordinated with the school’s, allowing student athletes to leave for off-island sports events.
“Changing the wintertime schedule would gravely disrupt programs at the school,” said School Committee Chair Bill Padien.
“I have four kids, and I’m constantly going back and forth on the ferry. The boat schedule can’t be perfect,” said island resident Annie Hall, who also sits on the School Committee. “It’s the price you pay for living in paradise.”
McElroy provided brief updates on various ferry service matters.
“It was an okay, but not great year,” said McElroy, about how business had fared in 2013.
According to McElroy, summertime passenger ticket sales decreased by 3 percent, and cars tickets increased by 9 percent, compared to the previous year.
McElroy also said maintenance to Interstate’s boat M.V Block Island was almost completed, with the ferry expected to resume service Wednesday, Dec. 18. He said maintenance is performed annually around this time of year; this year the work took longer because of engine repairs.
McElroy also said that a new service from Fall River is expected to begin this summer. It is an extension of Interstate’s Newport run, with the ferry beginning in Fall River, traveling to Newport, and then Block Island.