Ferry doubling high-speed trips to Block Island

NARRAGANSETT – The Block Island Ferry is doubling its high-speed trips from the town’s Point Judith village to Block Island to meet safety and ridership demands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interstate Navigation, the company that operates the ferry service out of Point Judith, will be adding another vessel to its high-speed ferry route almost every hour for the first half of its daily summer schedule beginning on July 3, something it has never done before. High-speed trips were usually run about two hours apart.

The company received approval from the R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers for the increased trips. Interstate Navigation runs its high-speed vessel the Athena from Point Judith to its dock at Old Harbor in New Shoreham, and now will be adding the high-speed vessel the Islander, which was pulled from its Fall River to Block Island route. That route has been put on hold until August due to the pandemic.

“We are doubling our schedule to meet the demand for social distancing,” said Bill McCombe, the company’s director of security. He noted that adding the Islander to the route “allows us to meet the normal demand that we would have on the Athena, while providing for the proper social distancing. While this is certainly not cost-effective, it is in the best interest of public health and safety to allow for social distancing. We will be bringing over the same amount of people; we will just be using two high-speed boats to do so.”

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The Athena has a maximum capacity of 250 passengers, but during the pandemic it can only transport a maximum of 125 passengers. The Islander, which can carry 300 total passengers, will be transporting 150.

McCombe said Interstate is adding the Islander to increase high-speed trips to meet safety protocol only, and not the volume of passengers that the company typically transports. “We have the ability with the Islander to slightly increase passenger capacity, but the objective is to meet the need of ridership while having the ability to satisfy social distancing,” he said.

“We’re really asking our passengers to be respectful of others and wear their face masks at all times during the trip,” he added.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo received complaints that passengers were not wearing face masks while traveling on the traditional ferry to the island. It is a state requirement that people wear face masks when in a public place and they can’t follow social-distancing guidelines. Interstate Navigation requires that all passengers wear face masks throughout the trip to the island.

As for the Fall River to Block Island route, a two-and-a-half-hour trip that stops in Newport, McCombe said, “We are placing that run on hold until August. At that time, we will make a decision on whether to run it or not.

“That run has been developed the past five years as a result of a good partnership with officials in Fall River and Newport,” said McCombe. “We look forward to continuing that service once we get through these trying times.”

Cassius Shuman is a staff writer and researcher at the PBN. You may reach him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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