Trying to catch the ferry
Interstate Navigation met with the New Shoreham Town Council for its yearly Q and A session, and the answers to the questions leaned heavily toward “maybe.” With two of the three members of the Town Council, Martha Ball and Mark Emmanuelle, admitting that they rarely use the ferry, and with Second Warden Sven Risom absent, it was mostly up to the audience to push for improved services from the island’s “lifeline.”
This year, Interstate changed up the winter service schedule, adding Wednesday as a day that it is possible to leave the island and return in the same day. Interstate Navigation has the unenviable task of balancing the needs of the various groups of island inhabitants, some who want more boats, some who want less boats, as well as Interstate’s own needs of economic viability.
Chris Blane spoke from the audience to request that the Thursday hours be restored, making it a viable off-island day. Thursday’s schedule mirrors Wednesday’s, and while there are boats available to go off the island and then back on, the time between arrival on the mainland and departure back to Block Island is five-and-a-half hours. In recent years, the Thursday schedule mirrored the Monday schedule, which has seven-and-a-half hours between arrival in Point Judith and departure for Block Island.
One person pointed out from the audience that five and a half hours just is not enough time for her to get her husband to the Providence VA Medical Center, have his appointment, and then make it back to the boat. As such, with the new schedule, all their appointments must be on Mondays, as it is the only seven-hour mainland day.
Cindy Baute mentioned that the traffic and road construction on I-95 to Providence is “horrendous,” and it puts a lot of “pressure and angst” on people to make their appointments.
Kay Lewis said that with the new schedule, she and her family can only make medical appointments on Mondays, since it is the only “long day.” The real problem, she said, is that if there is bad weather and the boat is canceled on a Monday, she has no way to reschedule her appointment at the doctor’s office, since the office is closed on weekends. She said she used to make appointments on Thursdays, so she could get in touch with the doctor during the week to cancel if it looked like the weather was going to be an issue. “We miss the longer day on Thursday,” she said. She
also said she recognized that Interstate had many “conflicting demands” and couldn’t meet everyone’s requests. She said she was always impressed, however, with the courteousness of everyone at the ferry and the helpful nature of the crew.
In an interesting answer to the public’s
request for a more convenient boat schedule, Janette Centracchio of Interstate Navigation said that the scheduling changes were due to the fact that people used to “go over and do everything, but now they can order everything.” She said it was “noticeable for us.”
Josh Linda spoke for Interstate, saying there were factors such as ridership that play a role in determining the schedule. He said the new Wednesday ridership was similar to Monday ridership. Interestingly, when ridership came up later, it seemed that Interstate did not have a solid grasp of daily ridership.
Town Manager Maryanne Crawford asked the Interstate delegation if they could provide information about how many people are actually on the boats each day. Police Chief Matt Moynihan said he would appreciate having data on numbers of people in order to plan during the tourist season. “I wouldn’t think it could be instant,” Moynihan said, explaining that it would be helpful for him to be able to track how many people are coming throughout the summer.
“We‘ve got the numbers annually, but we would like to break down the data and be better prepared.”
After the Interstate delegation conferred for a moment, attorney Mike McElroy said it would be “a major undertaking” involving looking in “the log books,” in order to provide ridership numbers. “We file ridership numbers with the PUC, so the numbers are there,” he said.
Council Member Keith Stover asked why it was hard, given that Interstate is already scanning the tickets. “It’s a really basic public safety request that isn’t as complicated as you are asserting,” he said.
McElroy responded that he didn’t see what difference it would make, but after Martha Ball had calmed everyone down by suggesting that an answer didn’t have to come immediately, McElroy suggested that perhaps the first mate could radio the information to someone on Block Island.
McElroy also said that he appreciated the work the chief was doing, and the improvements that had been made, especially by directing traffic when the boat arrives. McElroy pointed out that the Narragansett police had been directing traffic for years on their side of the ferry.
The meeting ended abruptly, as the delegation from Interstate had to rush back to catch the ferry. The Block Island ferry waits for no one, not even the schedule-makers.