The Block Island Times

Interstate announces new route from Fall River

Rival ferry owner says Interstate gets a “jumpstart” on new market
By Lars Trodson | Sep 13, 2013
Courtesy of: Google Maps The new Interstate ferry from Fall River to Block Island will take passengers through Mount Hope, Newport and Narragansett Bays, and over to the island beginning next year.

In an exclusive interview with The Block Island Times, Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan announced this week a new partnership with Interstate Navigation that will bring ferry passengers from Fall River to Newport and over to Block Island. The ferry will depart daily from the Fall River State Pier, next to Battleship Cove. The service is scheduled to start in 2014.

Mayor Flanagan spoke to The Block Island Times just moments before he was to give a press conference announcing the route on Monday, Sept. 9.

“For the past year, we’ve been working with Interstate to implement high speed ferry service that’ll be starting in June [2014],” said Flanagan. “We truly believe this service will attract people to Fall River — people north of Fall River from Boston and Providence.”

Flanagan cited two reasons for the move: convenience for summer travelers and an opportunity for his city to expand its tourism base.

“If you drive to Newport from Providence, it’s about an hour in the car and there’s a toll, and parking is going to cost you $25,” Flanagan said. “If you are to take the high speed out of Fall River, you’ll be there [in Newport] in a lesser amount of time. You don’t have to take your car to Newport, and the ferry has amenities for you.”

Flanagan also said, “There’s no longer a need to drive to Pt. Judith” to pick up the ferry. He then recommended that visitors taking the ferry out of Fall River have breakfast in that city and then, upon returning from Newport or Block Island, eat at a Fall River restaurant or take in a show.

“Everything is in place” in terms of the agreement with Interstate, said Flanagan. When asked if he thought there might be any pushback from the people in Narragansett, Flanagan said he didn’t see why there would be.

“I’m advocating for my community,” said Flanagan, who is running for his third term this year. “My focus is Fall River and making this community the best place I can.”

According to Megan Moran, Director of Group Sales for Interstate Navigation, passengers will have the opportunity to take the ferry to Newport, disembark and spend the morning in Newport and then take the afternoon ferry to Block Island, or they can simply stay on the ferry to Block Island.

She said Interstate was not adding any extra trips or capacity to its current schedule, but was rerouting an existing Point Judith to Newport route. The ferry docked in Point Judith overnight, and that first run to Newport did not take passengers.

She said the prospective schedule would be from June to September. “But no schedule has been set as of yet,” she said.

“I think it’s definitely worth it,” said Josh Linda, Vice President of Interstate Navigation, of the new route. “We were running empty anyway from our Point Judith to Newport run. We really have nothing to lose, and we’re not risking any big investment.”

The owner of a rival ferry company, Charles Donadio of Rhode Island Fast Ferry, said that the newly announced route supports his argument that the new route he would like to start from Quonset Point to Block Island is needed. “When I filed [to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers], Interstate said there is no new mysterious ridership or untapped market,” said Donadio. “That has been their claim and now they announce they are running from Fall River and the mayor [of Fall River] says there is this great untapped market in Providence and other places.”

Donadio, who has owned Rhode Island Ferry for the past 15 years (the company is based in North Kingstown), said Interstate’s announcement didn’t “upset” his plans, but admitted that Interstate Navigation “got a jumpstart in my [proposed] market.” He was critical of the new Interstate route, however, saying that he believed passengers would be on the ferry for about 2 ½ hours: an hour from Fall River to Newport, with a half-hour layover in Newport, and then another hour from Newport to Block Island.

“That’s a lot of time on the ferry and not a lot of time on the island,” said Donadio.

Linda, of Interstate Navigation, disputed that timetable.

Linda said that the total travel time from Fall River to Block Island would take “a little under two hours.” A trip from Fall River to Newport would be 45 to 50 minutes, he said, and there would be a 10 to 15 minute layover period in Newport to unload passengers. The Newport to Block Island run currently takes about an hour. Linda said that rates for the new Fall River run are not yet decided.

Donadio, for his part, admits that he has a very real obstacle in his efforts to create a route from Quonset Point to Block Island, and that’s because he has no place to dock his ferry. “The docking issue is factual,” he said.

His idea, however, is to have the town rebuild the town-owned dock, which was destroyed in the hurricane of 1938, and extend it out past Ballard’s Inn. Donadio believes that the town, by owning its own dock for a ferry service, even if not his own, “will pay itself back very quickly” through fees garnered from ferries and mini cruise ships. “The value of that dock is priceless to the town,” he said.

When asked how long it would take and how much it would cost to build a new dock, Donadio said he believed permitting and construction would take under a year. He said he built a new 600-foot dock for his own business for $700,000. “Cost is not a factor,” Donadio said. He also pointed out that only passengers would disembark from the high speed ferry.

Despite the fact that the town dock is located in front of Ballard’s Inn, Paul Filippi, co-owner of Ballard’s, has previously said there is no agreement of any kind between Ballard’s and Rhode Island Ferry. Ballard’s Wharf Marina is owned separately by the owners of the Inn.

Donadio also said that Interstate’s claim that the company would need to cut its winter schedule if revenues decreased during the summer due to Donadio’s competition didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

“They can’t cut their winter service,” said Donadio of Interstate. “They have to prove hardship” before the state Public Utilities Commission. He also said that “my little ferry service, my boutique ferry, will not hurt their business.”

Tom Kogut, Chief of Information for the R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, confirmed that Interstate would have to appear before the Division to amend its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity “if they wanted some diminution of services.”

But when Donadio was asked about what else he could bring to the island other than more people — that he wasn’t offering freight services or any other needed service to island residents — Donadio said that he needed to start somewhere. “You start small and work up,” he said. He also said that if his passengers are bringing some carryon freight to his boats, he “wouldn’t nickel and dime them about it.”

Tickets for his high speed ferry from Quonset Point, which would run from Memorial Day through at least Labor Day, would be about $50. He said he’d make two to four trips a day out of Quonset Point to Block Island.

On a side note, on Friday, Sept. 6, three days before the announcement of the Fall River Ferry, Interstate’s vessel the M/V Islander was observed on as having made a round trip from Galilee to Fall River. On Monday the new route from Fall River was announced.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Islander was observed on making a run to Vineyard Haven, which is part of Martha’s Vineyard.

When asked if Interstate was making a trial run for a possible Point Judith to Martha’s Vineyard run, which would put Interstate in direct competition with Rhode Island Ferry, Linda said, “We take the boats to a lot of different places. We have no plans at this time for a service” to Martha’s Vineyard.

Reporter Stephanie Turaj contributed to this report.

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