In the wake of its busiest weekend this year, the Steamship Authority is set to open the Oak Bluffs terminal Wednesday and reintroduce its full summer fleet, as traffic on the struggling boat line continues to tick upward.

Normally operational by the second week of May, the opening of the Oak Bluffs terminal was delayed nearly one month this summer because nearly 30 failed pilings needed replacement.

The possibility that the terminal opening might be long delayed or not open at all created a political firestorm in early spring in Oak Bluffs, which was already reeling from business closures due to the pandemic. In response, boat line officials opted for a “quick fix” that would get the pier done as soon as possible.

The boat line historically routes approximately 40 per cent of its summer traffic through the Oak Bluffs terminal.

SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen said at a governing board meeting on Tuesday that after a few stops and starts, repairs have been completed on schedule, much to the delight of the boat line’s management.

The pier is now operational for cars and light vehicles, Mr. Amundsen said. Because of the “quick fix,” all freight traffic will still have to be routed through Vineyard Haven.

“Everything went on budget. Everything went on time,” Mr. Amundsen said. “We’re complete and ready for operation now.”

The opening of the Oak Bluffs terminal comes with almost full reinstitution of the boat line’s summer schedule on Wednesday, with four boats providing daily trips between Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole.

In late March, the SSA severely curtailed its schedule to about 45 per cent of normal operations due to a sudden plummet in demand caused by the coronavirus. As traffic has steadily ticked upward, the authority has adjusted its schedule, reaching about 70 per cent of its normal volume by June.

The new schedule starting Wednesday is about 95 per cent of normal summer operations, and will include four daily and two extra weekend trips between Woods Hole and Oak Bluffs on the Nantucket. The Woods Hole, Island Home and Martha’s Vineyard ferries will continue service to Vineyard Haven with expanded route times as well.

The full schedule is available here.

“The service levels, we’re trying to make sure we’re providing enough service for those vehicles and passengers, but not excessive service,” general manager Bob Davis said at the Tuesday meeting.

Mr. Davis said he expected the new schedule, slated to continue until at least July 1, to continue throughout the summer. Advance bookings are down about 20 per cent in July and August, but remain relatively flat for September and October, SSA treasurer Mark Rozum reported.

“At this time, based on what advance bookings, we feel that once this operating schedule is in place, that we’d be able to run that level of service for the remainder of the summer,” Mr. Davis said. “Although we’ll continue to monitor that to see if there are any modifications that are warranted.”

Vehicle and passenger numbers have continued to trend upward since bottoming out in early April at the height of the pandemic. Mr. Davis reported on Tuesday that passenger traffic is now at 48 per cent of its normal volume over the first two weeks of June, automobile traffic is about 78 per cent of normal volume and freight trucks are at about 85 per cent.

The SSA also saw a spike in traffic this weekend, with Sunday marking the busiest (unaudited) day for passenger traffic this year, communications director Sean Driscoll said in an email.

Mr. Rozum reported that credit card receipts over the past weekend were over 100 per cent of their normal earnings. Mr. Davis qualified that by saying more customers were using credit cards than normal.

Although the ferry service’s short-term financial situation remains steady after an influx of cash from the CARES Act, officials reported very bleak earnings numbers for the months of April and May, complicating the long-term picture and hinting that a deficit remains possible.

“While it’s encouraging to see some of those upward trends, I do want to point out that 50-55 per cent of operating revenues are generated between the beginning of June and the end of September,” Mr. Davis said. “As we move along here in these months we will have a clearer understanding as to where we’re standing.”

The SSA reported a $5.5 million loss in April, almost $4 million more than expected. And although Mr. Davis didn’t have exact figures, he said the ferry line expected to lose about $3 million in May, normally the first month of the year that it reports a surplus. The 2020 operating budget planned for a $7 million surplus, which officials said had already dried up.

“Ouch,” said Falmouth governor Kathryn Wilson.

“My thoughts exactly,” Mr. Davis replied.

In other business, SSA managers updated the board on a public hearing regarding the boat line’s planned 2021 route schedule. In a rehash of a long-simmering issue, Woods Hole residents spoke out against the 5:30 a.m. freight boat to the Island, complaining of noise from trucks in the village. Vineyard residents defended the boat, saying it delivered necessary supplies early in the morning.

The problem arose during public hearings last year, with Falmouth residents forming a committee to look into scheduling solutions. Ms. Wilson, the Falmouth representative on the board, brought up the issue at the meeting Tuesday, suggesting that the SSA temporarily suspend the 5:30 a.m. boat because discussions hadn’t produced any results.

“We’ve been doing it for eight years this way, and it’s only getting worse,” Ms. Wilson said. “I’d like our board to give some serious thought to making a commitment to not just continuing business as usual on this set of issues.”

No decision was made at the meeting, although Mr. Davis said the SSA had received substantial public comment. A proposed schedule will be voted on in July.

SSA managers also said that things were “moving along quite well” with the Woods Hole reconstruction project. Officials plan to have the slip operational by July 1 and are nearly finished with the canopy and float. The $90 million reconstruction project is taking place in phases, with work continuing in the off-season and pausing during the summer.

Governors also approved the SSA’s 2021 budget recommendations, which will use traffic numbers from March 2019 through February 2020 to determine revenue and cost expectations. The budget recommendations include contingencies and flexibilities considering the unknowns from the pandemic.

“One of the challenges were going to have when preparing a budget is making sure that we’re adaptive enough to address the developments related to the pandemic,” Mr. Davis said. “And try to dust off the crystal ball, in terms of what may happen for 2021.”