By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Boston Harbor Cruises is interested in returning to operate the city’s commuter ferry.
The company was the only respondent in the city’s request for bids this winter. Boston Harbor Cruises ran the city’s high-speed catamaran between Salem and Boston for the 2012 season.
The city had solicited bids for a ferry operator this month, in hopes of securing a long-term vendor. The proposal offers a contract of up to five years: a one-year contract, followed by four, one-year options to renew.
“The longer-term contract is better for us,” said Alison Nolan, general manager at Boston Harbor Cruises. “It makes sense to make larger investments (such as marketing and promotions) if you have a longer-term contract.”
Nolan said the ferry had 43,046 riders for the 2012 season. If awarded the contract, they’d like to increase that number to 80,000, she said.
“Although we had slightly lower ridership than previous years, we’re still very excited about the connection between Salem and Boston,” Nolan said.
They’ve proposed a schedule that retains the ferry’s commuter runs but adds more non-commuter trips, ideal for day-tripping and sight seeing.
Also, the company plans to offer a 20 percent discount to Salem residents for any non-commuter trip.
“Boston Harbor Cruises has a very strong marketing base here in Boston,” Nolan said. “That’s one thing we think we can bring to the table — drawing commuters and tourists from the Boston market.”
Whitney Haskell, the city’s purchasing agent, said price proposals are sealed and won’t be opened until an evaluation committee has vetted the proposal.
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.
The city’s request for a 2013 ferry vendor sought an “experienced ferry operator” to provide daily service from Memorial Day weekend through Halloween and to maintain the vessel in the off-season. 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.
City Council approval is needed to finalize any contract with a ferry vendor.
The city purchased the 149-passenger, high-speed catamaran, the Nathaniel Bowditch, in 2006. The ferry operates from the Salem Wharf on Blaney Street.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.