Expanding transportation services among airlines, ferries, buses and trains have made the Vineyard more accessible than ever this summer.
Four airlines are now operating summer service between the Island and three major metropolitan areas. And two months ago train service began between Boston and the Cape that connects with a shuttle to the Steamship Authority.
US Airways is again offering direct service from Washington, D.C. But the New York metropolitan area is the single biggest client base for air travel, said Martha’s Vineyard Airport manager Sean Flynn.
Delta flies 50-seat passenger planes to and from JFK and La Guardia airports. The company began summer service to the Island in 2011, and added service to La Guardia in May. Jet Blue flies twice a day on Fridays and Sundays to JFK.
Cape Air remains the Island’s year-round airline with its nine-seat Cessna 402 aircrafts. The small size of the planes allows the Hyannis-based carrier to book multiple planes at one time slot, which isn’t possible with larger jets. For any given weekend flight, they can book nine, 27 or 36 passengers. Active management of scheduling allows the airline to be more flexible in terms of meeting demand. Cape Air is the only choice for access to regional airports, including Logan, New Bedford, Providence and White Plains, N.Y.
The traditional way to travel to the Vineyard is still by ferry, and in summer there are lots of choices. The Steamship Authority is the year-round car and passenger ferry service that operates between Woods Hole and the Island. Summer passenger ferries include the triple-decked Island Queen, which has been servicing the Island for 53 years and holds up to 500 passengers. The ferry takes 35 minutes, and operates between Falmouth and Oak Bluffs harbors. Round-trip tickets are slightly more expensive than the SSA, at $20, but parking is arguably more convenient. “We are big fans of Martha’s Vineyard and are thrilled we are able to provide service to the Island,” said general manager Tood Bidwell.
Hy-line Cruises also runs a traditional and a high-speed ferry between Hyannis and Oak Bluffs in the summer, and one high-speed round trip daily between Oak Bluffs and Nantucket. Their biggest client base is southeastern Massachusetts. They charge $72 for an adult round-trip ticket on the high speed ferry. The traditional ferry costs less but the trip takes longer.
The Martha's Vineyard Fast Ferry operates high-speed summer servcie between Quonset, R.I., and Oak Bluffs and is popular with the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut market due to its convenient connection with Amtrak. The ferry offers business class amenities for travelers.
There is also ferry service from New Bedford and New York city on the high-speed passenger ferry Seastreak. It’s a five-hour ferry ride between midtown Manhattan and Oak Bluffs. The New Bedford route runs to Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.
The Falmouth-Edgartown ferry operates a small passenger ferry between Falmouth harbor and Memorial Wharf in Edgartown from early summer through fall. The ferry has valet parking and a book-ahead reservation service
And summer rail service between Boston and the Cape has returned for the first time in 25 years. The Cape Flyer weekend railway service between Boston and Hyannis was in full swing over the Fourth of July. The majority of the 700 passengers who made the trip the last weekend in June were not traveling all the way to the Vineyard; only 16 passengers took advantage of the free Steamship shuttle between the Buzzards Bay stop and Woods Hole. Hy-line is also offering a free bus service between the Hyannis train station and their ferry dock a few blocks away.
Thomas Cahir, administrator at the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, said he is confident the pilot rail service will be financially successful. At $32 for a round-trip ticket, the service is cheaper than the Peter Pan bus, which costs $52 and is subject to traffic. But the shuttle between the train and the ferry adds at least 35 minutes to the trip, making the entire voyage between Boston and Woods Hole about two hours and 15 minutes, longer than the one hour and 40 minutes Peter Pan promises, sans traffic. Peter Pan remains the only ground transportation company connecting carless passengers originating at Woods Hole with Logan Airport.
New this year, Seastreak is offering a free bus ride between New Bedford and Boston for ticketed ferry passengers, specifically designed to benefit Islanders. “Over the years, we have taken many calls from people from Boston trying to get to and from, and we always suggested another company,” said John Silvia, assistant operations manager for the New Bedford-based company.
Lenny Rapone traveled to the Island for the first time over July Fourth for a day trip with friends. He knew about the Island Queen because he’d seen it in his youth when he used to vacation in Falmouth. “We called, they gave us instructions, very cordial, not a problem at all,” he said.
Anne Saulnier, a stay-at-home mom who gets seasick easily, had heard that the seas were rough around the time she wanted to visit the Island. So while her husband motored over to the Island on their 33-foot Grady White, she and her daughter, Lily, 11 and a half, took the Seastreak. She said the dock in New Bedford is an easy drive from her home in Westport; it’s fast, and even when it’s rough, “you don’t really feel anything,” she said. Ms. Saulnier has been to the Island about 20 times. “It’s a nice place to visit,” she said. “There are not too many places where you will let your kids walk down the street by themselves.”
Nicole Thurnau, a middle school English teacher in Boston, sat at the Vineyard Haven terminal waiting to leave the Island after a short trip for the Fourth of July. On the way down, she took the SSA from Woods Hole to Oak Bluffs, the same way she’s come the 10 times she’s been to the Vineyard. “I don’t really know of any other way to get here,” she said. “The ride is always smooth, and I feel like the ship captains are always very communicative.” Once they boarded the boat in Woods Hole on their way over, they realized it was going to Oak Bluffs, not Vineyard Haven, where they really wanted to be. “We were like, ah, wrong boat!” she said. They corrected the mistake with a 10 minute VTA bus ride to Vineyard Haven.
An earlier version of this story omitted information about the Martha's Vineyard Fast Ferry, which operates high-speed service between Quonset, R.I., and Oak Bluffs.