At its meeting on July 20, the Winthrop Town Council heard about the dubious future of the Winthrop Ferry, which has been losing roughly $1,000 per day.
The Ferry provides transportation between Winthrop, Quincy and Boston.
a normal year, it opens in early April and operates seven days a week. Due to lack of staffing, the service opened late, operating only on weekdays.
“The Ferry is something we all want, but is it something we can afford?” asked Town Manager Delehanty. “I think it’s important to give the council a run-down of where we stand today.”
Paul Manganaro, a summer intern at the Town Manager’s Office, conducted a study on the profitability of the Ferry so far this season. He shared his findings in a slideshow presentation.
Within its first month of operation, the Ferry spent $36,298 in expenses, but brought in only $8,977 in revenue, creating a deficit of $27,321. The Ferry spent more on staff alone ($12,371) than its total revenue.
Based on this loss, and data from previous years, it is estimated that the Ferry will continue to hemorrhage $6,395 every week for a total loss of $154,841 by the end of the year.
In a normal year, the Ferry opens in early April and also runs on weekends. This means that the deficit could total over $277,000 for a full season going forward. If the Ferry needed major repairs, that deficit could increase by tens of thousands of dollars.
Lack of revenue is attributed to low ridership. The Ferry generated its highest revenue from Winthrop riders and commuter packages. Besides paying its permanent employees, the Ferry’s greatest expenses are liability insurance, boat fuel, maintenance, rent and workman’s compensation.
“We budgeted $450,000 for the Ferry but it was all dependent on grants and ticket sales,” said Town Manager Delehanty.
The Town is in conversation with the Dept. of Transportation and is hoping for a commitment from them.
“I cannot run any type of service in a deficit,” said Town Manager Delehanty. “My auditor and accountant will be knocking on my door saying we can’t do this.”
“We don’t have the expertise to be running a transportation service,” he continued.
The conversation turned to how the Town can make up for the lost revenue. Town Manager Delehanty stressed that using one-time money was not an option, because “what are we going to do next year?”
He added that any money from the state would come with strict statutes and that the Town can’t keep petitioning the DOT and DEP indefinitely.
“[The Ferry] has never been even close to breaking even without grant money, ever,” he said. “So that’s a concern.”
Councilor James Letterie called Manganaro’s presentation “eye-opening.”
“It’s an incredible loss,” he said. “There are tough decisions that have to be made.”
“This is disappointing,” echoed Councilor Stephen Ruggiero, “but I can’t say it’s a bad idea to connect Winthrop to the largest financial hub in New England.” “I’m hopeful that I don’t have to shut it down,” said Town Manager Delehanty, “but we should keep this conversation on the front burner and determine our long-term plans.”