Steamship Approves UPS Tug And Barge License Request

David Creed •

The Steamship Authority’s Board of Governors unanimously voted in agreement Friday morning on a motion that approves a license request made by 41 North Offshore, LLC to operate freight truck transportation services for UPS between New Bedford and Nantucket this summer.

This license will run from May 15 through October 19, 2022. If 41 North wishes to continue this service beyond October 19, it would need to be renegotiated and approved by the SSA Board. The expectation is there will be approximately 70 trips made during this 22-week stretch carrying over UPS tractor trailers to the island.

The shipping giant had been scrambling after failing to book reservations aboard the Steamship Authority ferries for the summer. UPS typically sends two to three trailers to the island on a daily basis including time-sensitive packages like medication and food, as well as the bulk of the Amazon packages destined for Nantucket. While the Steamship has already voted to prioritize UPS on the waitlist and give it any available reservations that are left, it was unclear whether those measures would be enough, leading to this proposal.

The meeting lasted 30 minutes and there was dialogue about some lingering questions prior to a vote. SSA board member Roberts Jones, who represents Barnstable, raised his concern about losing UPS long-term as a customer if they view this service as a cheaper alternative and said the SSA needs to take measures to ensure they don't lose money from this action.

Peter Jeffrey, Falmouth's representative on the SSA Board, understood Jones concerns beyond this year, but said the board is facing an "extraodinary circumstance" of UPS missing the reservation and warned against doing too much with the pilot license.

"If we do too much with the pilot license are we going to make it a poison pill for 41 North to want to move forward this year and this season alone," Jeffrey said. "The economic impact on Nantucket I think would be devastating if they don't get their freight during the season. I don't think UPS is moving forward trying to address this because they don't believe the space we are freeing up for them is going to meet the needs of Nantucket, and I agree with that. I defer to Mr. Ranney on that but I think if we don't do something for this year, the island of Nantucket and its businesses will suffer."

"I do agree with Mr. Jones and what we should do is beyond the pilot we need to direct the authority to look at its tariff and wharf fees moving forward and if this is going to go beyond a pilot year, address the licensing concerns that Mr. Jones brings up beyond this year."

Rob Ranney, Nantucket's representative on the SSA Board, agreed with Jeffrey and isn't concerned at this time that UPS will opt for these freight services over the SSA.

"I think given how this unfolded originally, next year we aren't going to be in this situation because UPS, or the common carrier here is going to find out that doing this by barge is way more difficult than booking reservations the normal way," Ranney said. "We can look at this moving forward. Maybe those fares should be or those tariffs should be updated to the present time whether we use them or not. The way this is spelled out now is totally fine with me. As a pilot, I think we should go forward with it."

41 North Offshore LLC, already operates tugs and barges out of New Bedford. According to their proposal, UPS was still without guaranteed Steamship reservations for 150 to 200 of the trips to Nantucket it needs for this summer. These 70 barge trips with one or more of its trailers will cover those missing reservations. But 41 North Offshore is looking beyond the UPS situation. Its manager, Jonah Mikutowicz, said the new service would improve the transportation of materials and other items to Nantucket that may not necessarily fit into the Steamship Authority’s operation very easily. It had started exploring the concept in late 2020, well before the UPS debacle.

According to its license application, “The Pilot is designed with a focus on two things; first to determine if a tug and barge freight service between New Bedford and Nantucket is a viable transportation method that could supplement the existing SSA ferry service between Hyannis and Nantucket; and second, to solve the immediate need of a critical transporter of products, medicine and supplies to Nantucket (UPS), that is not able to meet all its Nantucket transportation needs using the SSA during the busy Nantucket summer season. The goal of the pilot is to determine if, as the service develops, other SSA customers that cannot reserve a guaranteed spot with the SSA will participate in the service. The service is not designed nor intended to take customers and freight traffic away from the SSA, but rather supplement the SSA at times when the SSA cannot offer a guaranteed reservation."

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