The Steamship Authority does not receive any offers for freight service out of Cape Town

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WOODS HOLE – To the disappointment of some community members in Falmouth, Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority has not received any contract proposals to establish a freight service from a port outside Cape Town to Martha’s Vineyard.

Members of the Falmouth community have long wanted such a service to move some of the traffic from Falmouth, which experiences the daily traffic of freight trucks traveling from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard.

Cargo trucks load onto a Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority ferry, traveling from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard, in 2020. The ferry line's loaded cargo traffic is a burden on Falmouth, some members of the community.

“Disappointed, but not surprised,” said Falmouth resident Nathaniel Trumbull, a member of the Southeast MA Citizens Regional Transportation Task Force (SMART).

Despite continued complaints from residents, the Steamship Authority plans to continue operating its early morning cargo ferry from Woods Hole in 2021. Many have lobbied for boats to depart from New Bedford instead, or perhaps being a not so early hour from Woods Hole.  But the islanders insisted on keeping things as they are.

Problem History

The state legislature established the Steamship Authority in 1960. Its purpose is to provide “adequate transportation of persons and the necessities of life for the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard”.

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It now operates a line of boats between the ports of Woods Hole, Falmouth, and Hyannis to the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Steamship Authority employs approximately 750 workers during peak season and generates approximately $100 million in annual revenue, according to the Authority’s website.

In 1999 the Steamship Authority passed a resolution to reduce freight traffic in Woods Hole and Hyannis by using a port outside the Cape. The authority began offering freight service between New Bedford and the vineyard in 2001, but the route was canceled a year later because the agency lost money.

The number of freight trips through Woods Hole continued to rise with no end in sight, said Falmouth Select Board member Doug Brown.

Twenty years later, Falmouth still has no respite from traffic and congestion. The number of freight trips through Woods Hole continued to rise with no end in sight, said Falmouth Select Board member Doug Brown.

“I don’t think it’s sustainable that Falmouth will accommodate the ever-increasing volume going to the vineyard,” he said.

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Request for Proposals

The Steamship Authority issued a request for proposals, or RFP, for freight service out of Cape Town to Martha’s Vineyard in April. The agency advertised the proposal locally and nationally for four months, but received no offers by the August 2 deadline, a press release from the authority said.

The absence of proposals is indicative of the difficult nature of such a service. The Steamship Authority issued a fair and flexible tender and encouraged potential bidders to provide comments if they felt parts of the request were too stringent, authority spokesman Sean Driscoll said. .

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The authority will ask potential bidders for their views on the tenders and consider their comments before considering next steps, he said.

Falmouth’s reaction to the DP

The tender was too complex, lacked adequate publicity and lacked adequate public briefings, Trumbull said.

Part of the reason for the failure of the tender was that the city of New Bedford offered very little space in its harbor, only about a one-acre parcel, Brown said.

“Without any infrastructure on site for any potential bidder, I’m sure it would be a very expensive undertaking,” he said.

Brown said he hoped New Bedford would provide more space for the Steamship Authority or a potential bidder. He also wants the Authority to connect with New Bedford officials and be proactive in asking for more options.

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