By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — The city is looking for a company to operate its high-speed commuter ferry between Salem and Boston.
Mayor Kim Driscoll said it’s not because the city is unhappy with last year’s operator, Boston Harbor Cruises. City leaders simply want to contract with a company long-term.
To do so, the city must go through a competitive bidding process. Vendor proposals for a high-speed ferry service between Salem and Boston are due Feb. 7.
“We’re looking for a longer-term operator,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll said she’d be happy to have Boston Harbor Cruises back for a longer contract. Last spring, BHC was given a one-year contract with two one-year options to renew.
The city’s request for a 2013 ferry vendor offers a contract of up to five years: a one-year contract followed by four one-year options to renew.
With the city’s waterfront growth, “we want to have a ferry secured for five years,” Driscoll said. “... We’re looking for longevity.”
Boston Harbor Cruises took over the city’s commuter ferry service last year from Water Transportation Alternatives of Quincy, which had run the ferry for six years. In August, a company spokesperson said BHC had an average of 50 passengers per trip out of Salem.
Boston Harbor Cruises could not be reached for comment.
The city’s request seeks an “experienced ferry operator” to provide daily service from Memorial Day weekend through Halloween and maintain the vessel in the offseason. The operator would also be responsible for advertising and promoting the ferry service.
Once a contract is awarded, ferry service will start “on or around” May 25, according to the city’s request.
The city asks responders to propose a schedule and fares “designed to accommodate the transportation needs of both commuters and visitors.”
City Council approval is needed to finalize any contract with a ferry vendor.
Salem’s ferry service began in 2006. The city’s 149-passenger, high-speed catamaran, the Nathaniel Bowditch, was purchased with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, matched by city funds.
The ferry operates from the Salem Wharf on Blaney Street.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.