SALEM — The city is looking for a new ferry operator after learning that the current company, Water Transportation Alternatives of Quincy, does not expect to run a full schedule this year.
Mayor Kim Driscoll notified city councilors over the weekend of the development. It comes just a few months after WTA had to cut back the fall schedule due to high fuel costs and low ridership.
Salem owns a 149-passenger ferry that runs between the Blaney Street Landing and Boston. It is a popular summer service, making about a half-dozen round trips a day. It drew 89,000 riders in 2010.
Driscoll wrote to councilors Saturday following a series of meetings with Bill Walker, the head of WTA.
"Based on my last discussion with Bill," the mayor wrote, "it seems more likely than not that he will not be able to operate the ferry on a full schedule next season.
"With that in mind, the city will be putting out a request for proposals seeking alternative operators for next season. Water Transportation Alternatives is under contract to provide services through November 2012, but if they are unable to provide a full ferry schedule, I think it's in the city's best interest to identify and pursue alternative operators."
WTA had notified the city earlier that it was unlikely to continue its early morning commuter run. Last month, a group of commuters met with Salem officials to encourage them to continue the service, which drew about 40 riders. Many were critical of WTA and the city for failing to promote and advertise the commuter ride.
Driscoll said she had a series of meetings with the ferry operator this winter about ways to cut fuel costs and increase ridership. Among topics discussed was the possibility of entering into a cooperative fuel purchasing agreement with the T.
"While talks continue ..." the mayor wrote, "I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to maintain a full ferry schedule next year. ... I am pleased to say that we have already heard from other companies who have been following our investment in Salem Wharf and who have expressed an interest in working with us."
The city is about to begin construction of a large section of the new Salem wharf at the Blaney Street landing. It is being built in the hope of attracting small cruise ships, commercial vessels and the ferry, which currently uses a temporary dock.
The city has made other improvements at the site, including paving the parking lot and constructing an interim ferry building.
"We remain committed to maintaining our ferry service and appreciate the work we have engaged in with WTA to date," Driscoll stated. "Their contract with the city runs through November, but if they are unable to perform to our satisfaction, we need to explore other options."
The Salem ferry operates from Memorial Day through Halloween.