Passenger ferries to Martha’s Vineyard have either delayed or curtailed summer service, cutting trips, limiting passengers, mothballing boats — and in one instance canceling the entire summer season — all as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s because of demand — or lack of,” said Todd Bidwell, general manager for the Island Queen, a passenger ferry that operates between the Falmouth harbor and Oak Bluffs. The Island Queen is running, but has temporarily cut back on weekday service. “We just don’t have the ridership,” Mr. Bidwell said.

The Steamship Authority, which serves as the main conduit between the Island and the mainland, has also reported dismal foot traffic this spring, but the smaller passenger ferries, normally cruising at this time of year with tourist traffic and daytrippers, have been hit hardest.

The smaller, faster ferries have long served as a summer alternative to the slower SSA vessels out of Woods Hole. Although the SSA licenses the ferries, all are independently-owned, small businesses that operate out of diverse port locations: Falmouth, Hyannis, New Bedford. Two larger fast ferries operate out of Rhode Island and New York city in the summer months.

But demand for the independent passenger ferry services has cratered this year, forcing cutbacks and one outright cancellation.

For the first time in its 17 years of service, the Martha’s Vineyard Fast Ferry, which operates between North Kingston, R.I., and Oak Bluffs, canceled the entire 2020 season. Safety concerns were cited as the main reason.

“Our top priority is the safety of our passengers and our staff,” a statement from the company said last week. “The layout of high-speed ferries is such that, even with socially distant seating arrangements and substantially reduced capacity, close interaction with other passengers and our crew is unavoidable.”

Other ferries are taking precautions. The Seastreak, which operates high-speed passenger service between New Bedford and Oak Bluffs, has cut its 6:30 am trip to the Island and is reducing capacity on boats. All vessels are requiring face coverings.

The Pied Piper a boutique passenger ferry service that operates between Falmouth and Edgartown during the summer, is limiting ridership to 45 passengers, about a third of its normal Coast Guard capacity, according to manager Paul Porter. The ferry is currently running on the weekends, with a summer schedule set to begin June 19.

Mr. Porter said demand is much lower than normal — and most of the other companies concurred.

The Island Queen, which can carry 500 passengers, recently announced it would temporarily suspend trips on Monday through Thursday for at least the next week because of low demand. The spring schedule is running on weekends, but one Friday trip has been cut and summer service will not begin until June 19 — a week later than usual, according to Mr. Bidwell.

“There may be some modifications to that,” he said. “We’re just not seeing the normal numbers.”

The Hy-Line, a private passenger ferry which operates between Hyannis and Oak Bluffs, normally starts running the first week of May. Hy-Line has not run a ferry to the Vineyard yet this year, and doesn’t plan to until the weekend of June 12. Company co-owner Philip Scudder said that service would be limited too.

“It will not be our full summer service,” Mr. Scudder said. “Our Vineyard service is strictly tourist-related. We have no idea what the demand is going to be.”

Inter-Island service between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, which the Hy-Line normally operates during the summer months, is being handled for now by the Seastreak. And the Seastreak’s New York city to Martha’s Vineyard weekend service has been delayed a full month. Normally operating by Memorial Day, the service won’t run until Fourth of July this year.

The Steamship Authority reported passenger traffic was down 68 per cent in May. Mr. Bidwell said the Island Queen, whose riders include visitors, Cape residents, commuters and Islanders, has likely seen a comparable decrease in traffic.

He said an added underlying factor affecting passenger ferries was the almost complete cancellation of the motorcoach (tour bus) season and the lack of day-trip visitors from Boston hotels.

“With all of those folks not coming, it really just relies on the local residents here in Falmouth and on the Island,” Mr. Bidwell said. “It’s just not enough.”

One small ferry service is the exception to the rule this year. The Patriot, a 40-passenger charter vessel that runs eight daily trips between Oak Bluffs and Falmouth, has only seen about a 20 per cent decrease in traffic recently, owner Jim Tietje estimated. Although the Patriot cut trips early in the pandemic, it has returned to a full schedule since the Island’s construction moratorium was lifted in late April.

The Patriot mainly services contractors and commuters, and carries freight, including newspapers and baked goods. The lack of tourist traffic hasn’t been a problem, Mr. Tietje said.

“I’d say it is a little off from other years, but we’re doing fairly well it seems,” he said. “We don’t really rely on tourists at all.”

And despite the bleak spring numbers, independent ferry owners looked with some optimism toward the sunnier summer months. Some said creative thinking from Island towns could help. Mr. Porter said Edgartown’s plan to shut down portions of Main street and offer outdoor dining seemed promising.

“I don’t want it to sound like all doom and gloom,” he said. “If their downtown plan comes to fruition, that can give us some glimmer of hope.”