The Falmouth-based Pied Piper is the little ferry that just keeps on going. On a recent Sunday afternoon, a number of the passengers aboard were as familiar with the ritual of boarding the boat as repeat customers are familiar with a commuter bus.
Ed Berger of Wellesley and Chappaquiddick was comfortably seated, his weekend with family over. On this late-afternoon trip he was heading home to get back to work. Seated next to him was his father in law, Sam Fuller of Sherborn.
Mr. Berger identified himself as a weekend commuter.
“You’ll find a lot of people on this boat are from Chappaquiddick,” Mr. Berger said.
Mr. Fuller nodded his head in agreement. The computer engineer has been coming to the Vineyard for 27 years. He and his wife Carol have lived on Chappaquiddick for quite a few years and he said they both see the Pied Piper as a commuting godsend.
The ferry makes going between two homes easy. To get on the ferry, he can walk on the Chappaquiddick ferry, walk off, go to Memorial Wharf and await the arrival of the 90-foot boat. It takes only a few minutes.
Without the passenger ferry, the trip to the mainland gets a lot longer and is entirely different. He said he’d have to make arrangements to get to Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs by car or bus. And he would have to coordinate that trip with a departing boat. Plus, his mainland car would most probably be in a distant parking lot.
Obviously, getting home this way is easier.
After a full summer schedule, the Pied Piper is now operating on weekends. A one-way ticket costs $15, round trip is $30. In contrast, the one-way passage on SSA ferries between the Vineyard and Woods Hole is $7 one-way and $14 for a round trip.
Ridership on the little ferry also is much smaller than the larger Steamship Authority.
According to the Authority, the Pied Piper served 9,151 customers this past July, down from the 9,780 served in the same month in 2006. Meanwhile this year’s ridership on the Authority for the same month was 324,077, up from 321,898 of a year ago.
The business offers valet parking. Cars arriving at the Falmouth harbor parking lot, adjacent to the Pied Piper dock, can leave their car, without a concern about finding a parking place.
T.J. Silvia, general manager at Falmouth Ferry said vehicles are parked in empty boat sheds. “All the boats are in the water in the summer,” he said. Offering indoor parking for cars is a pretty unusual perk for ferry service, at $20 per day.
Getting the car at the Falmouth side is easy. Mr. Silvia said that when a passenger gets on the ferry in Edgartown, they bring their valet parking slip. Word is radioed back to Falmouth while the boat is under way, so that by the time the boat ties up in Falmouth, their car is waiting within a few feet of the dock.
Summer was over for Thea Rodenburg, a junior at the University of Arizona. She sat on the starboard side, second level of the boat looking out over the water. There was sadness in her voice about this trip.
She had just finished a three-week assignment as a babysitter for a family in Edgartown. She was charged with overseeing a 15-year-old. “This probably the best job I’ve ever had, any summer” she said.
The two traveled the Island, she said. Miss Rodenburg said her first visit to the Vineyard was two years ago and it was a quick trip to Oak Bluffs. This was entirely different.
“We went to the beach every day. I think the Vineyard is one of the top three places I’ve been,” she said. “Everyone is super nice.”
Bismark Irving, 44, of New York city, had never been to the Vineyard before. He came with his friend to help in the delivery of a boat. “This is an extremely beautiful place. I can’t understand why it took me 44 years to get here,” he said.
Mr. Irving was with a party of two others, Lesley Perrin and her son Scott Perrin, of Woods Hole.
Earlier in the day, Scott Perrin sailed his boat from home to Lake Tashmoo, where it would be kept for a week.
Mrs. Perrin said she went for the sail with her son to visit the Vineyard for the first time in 50 years.
“It is so built up since the 1950s,” she said. “The buildings in Edgartown used to be houses and now they are shops.”
Dave Wolfthal of East Bridgewater was returning after spending a quick day on the Vineyard. He, his wife and eight year old daughter came over for the day. “We used to vacation here 10 years ago, every summer. We haven’t been here in 10 years.”
The trip arose out of a connection with college friends. They went to Falmouth and thought it would be fun just to come over to the Vineyard for the day.
“We walked Edgartown streets and of course went to Mad Martha’s for ice cream,” he said. “It was a wonderful visit. I forgot how much I like the Vineyard.”
On the other side of their positive visit, Mr. Wolfthal said: “I was surprised how expensive the Vineyard has become in five years. I kind of expected it to be expensive, but I was still surprised.”