SALEM — The Salem ferry doesn't attract enough passengers or make enough money to be a viable, daily service from June through October, according to the ferry operator.
"We really gave it a great effort, but financially it's just not working out," said William Walker, president of Water Transportation Alternative of Quincy, which may be stepping aside after operating the Salem-to-Boston service for the past six years.
When the 149-passenger Salem ferry begins a new season on Memorial Day weekend, there could be a new operator.
Walker, who is still under contract, told city officials he planned to cut back service this year, possibly running a daily, round-trip ferry only in the peak tourist months of July and August and operating a three-day, weekend schedule in the shoulder seasons.
The ferry runs from Memorial Day through Halloween. While schedules have varied over the years, it generally offered about a half-dozen daily, 50-minute runs between the two cities.
Walker, who does business as Boston's Best Cruises, cut back the Salem run to long weekends last fall.
The decision not to operate a full schedule this season prompted Mayor Kim Driscoll to announce that the city will be putting out a request for proposals seeking a new operator. She said she already has had inquiries from interested companies.
Walker said he has had a good working relationship with the mayor and City Council and contended he has tried hard to build up the business. Although criticized in some quarters for not promoting the ferry enough, Walker said he spent $85,000 last year on advertising.
During a shortened 2011 season, the Salem ferry carried 73,000 passengers. That's just not enough business, Walker said.
"We'd like to get it up to 100,000-plus riders," he said.
After running a state-subsidized demonstration project in the late 1990s, Salem began full ferry service in 2006 when it signed a contract with WTA. The company is one of the largest around, operating a year-round MBTA commuter ferry between Quincy, Boston, Hull and Logan Airport; a Boston Harbor cruise; and a New England Aquarium whale watch.