INTERVIEW | Fire Island Ferries’ Tim Mooney discusses proper planning, reacting promptly to situations

Photo: Fire Island Ferries

In another installment of the Interferry CEO online interviews series, Interferry CEO Mike Corrigan gets valuable insights on the suburban ferry sector from Tim Mooney, owner and operator of New York-based Fire Island Ferries.

Could you share with us some details about your experience in operating a ferry company amid the Covid-19 pandemic?

We’ve been operating even when the pandemic started in the US and it’s been a challenge especially since our operations are just outside New York City, which everyone knows has become one of the many epicenters of the pandemic early on. It was challenging for us with regard to giving additional training for our crews, disinfecting our vessels and facilities, and implementing social distancing, as these were activities that were not considered “typically normal” for any ferry operator.

We had to spin up quickly and determine how we were going to accomplish all that, what our schedule would look like, what we could afford to do and not afford to do. But even with our preparations at the start of the pandemic, the drop in ridership has been dramatic.

We invested in training our crews, acquiring disinfecting equipment, and implementing policies such as social distancing and mask-wearing. A lot of these things were new to everyone, not just the ferry industry, so it was sort of an “on the job training” for us as we received new directives from New York state officials on what we were permitted to do and what we were not permitted to do.

With the situation now being uncertain, how do you prepare for the future?

The strategy we’ve developed is one that we feel would get us through to next Memorial Day in the US, which is the end of May. Once September hits, our revenue stream would be cut back dramatically and it would be essentially non-existent during the winter. So for the next seven months, we will be more focused on closely managing our expenses, determining how much money we have and how much we can spend on both necessary and “nice to have” projects, until we achieve a reasonable revenue stream, which we don’t anticipate will come at any time prior to next May.

Is your company receiving any ongoing support from any of the levels of government where you are?

We have benefited from support provided by the federal government by way of relief funding for payroll under the CARES Act. We have also been able to cooperate with the local communities with regard to scheduling so that our operations, even if scaled-back somewhat, could still satisfy people’s need to travel.

Do you have any planned investments in vessels, infrastructure, and other related assets that you’ve put on hold because of the pandemic?

We had quite a few projects such as engine upgrades, dock works, and others planned for spring of this year, but since this crisis began, we had to set those aside and we probably won’t get started on them until next year.

By your own definition, you’re a “smaller” ferry operator. When you look at your own business and think of other smaller operators out there, what advice would you give them relative to your own operations?

Do what you can in order to continue to provide a service. Don’t look back and say, “We should’ve done this.” You need to have a plan in place.

You also need to be able to manage your finances well. For our part, we manage our revenues and our expenses on a week-to-week basis and compare it to what’s happening in real time so that, if necessary, we could make immediate adjustments to expenses such as payroll. We react to situations immediately instead of just waiting for something to happen. In the past, we used to say, “Okay, we had a bad week, but we’ll make up for it next week.” We don’t think that way anymore.

Click here for the other news, features and reviews comprising this month’s Passenger Vessel Week.

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