Three months ago, Martha’s Vineyard was poised for its busiest summer on record. With Covid-19 vaccines widespread and virus cases declining to near zero, booking numbers from the Steamship Authority showed a 15 per cent increase in advance summer reservations from 2019, borne out by a significant rebound in vehicle and passenger traffic.

Things, of course, weren’t so simple.

In a surprising twist, Covid-19 and the Delta variant continued to have noticeable impacts on Martha’s Vineyard travel patterns, leading to fewer-than-expected passengers, but more vehicle traffic from off-Island and increased airport enplanements as summer comes to a close.

“We went from hot-girl summer to remasking summer,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll joked. “Everyone thought it was going to be the roaring twenties, and it didn’t quite make it to that point.”

The Steamship Authority predicted in its budget projections that the boat line would see an approximately 10 per cent decrease in passenger traffic compared to pre-pandemic levels throughout 2021. Vehicle traffic was expected to match pre-pandemic levels, according to projections.

By May, with the virus subsiding and vaccine supply robust, those predictions squared almost perfectly with reality.

According to monthly data provided by the SSA, May 2021 saw an 11 per cent decrease in passenger traffic relative to pre-pandemic 2019, while vehicle traffic was actually up 3.6 per cent. June saw a similar scenario, with passenger traffic down 10 per cent from 2019 and vehicle traffic up 2 per cent.

There were more cars on Island roads in July than in August this summer. — Ray Ewing

But by peak summer, passenger numbers had begun to slightly taper, down 16 per cent in July from 2019. As virus cases spiked in August and Island towns reinstituted an indoor mask mandate, the number dropped further, decreasing 19 per cent from August 2019.

Vehicle traffic was down less than one per cent in both July and August compared to 2019.

Mr. Driscoll thought it was a fair supposition that the virus continued to impact people’s comfort level with short-term travel, particularly in August, as the Island likely saw fewer day-trippers compared with 2019 during the month.

“The travel that doesn’t necessarily need as much planning . . . is probably where we’re seeing softness with that segment, just because of Covid,” Mr. Driscoll said.

While vehicle traffic has largely remained on a par with pre-pandemic levels, the SSA has seen a significant year-to-date increase in regular fare, or off-Island, vehicle traffic compared to excursion fare traffic, particularly in spring and early summer. Excursion fares are available for year-round Island residents.

As of August, there has been a 10 per cent year-to-date increase in regular fare traffic compared to 2019, a possible explanation for why the 13 per cent overall decline in passenger traffic did not bear out anecdotally on the street or among the business community, which reported an unusually busy summer season.

Excursion fare traffic has been down 13 per cent compared with 2019, with overall vehicle traffic up 2 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. Mr. Driscoll squared the record-breaking advance booking numbers with the relatively flat vehicle traffic by pointing to a change in travel preferences for Island visitors: more people are booking their trips farther in advance, and fewer travelers are stopping over spontaneously.

“There was pent up demand for people to travel this year based on how early people were booking,” Mr. Driscoll said. “There was increased interest earlier in the season. People were planning.”

At the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, director Geoff Freeman reported during a meeting Thursday that more than 19,000 passengers had enplaned during the month of August, up by about 12 per cent from August of 2019. But airport operations, which measures the number of planes contacting the airport control tower, decreased by 3.2 per cent during 2021 versus 2019.

Mr. Freeman said a transition from smaller planes to larger jet traffic explained the increase in passengers but decrease in planes.

“Jet traffic has obviously taken over a lot of the numbers that were piston, small-type aircraft,” Mr. Freeman said “The numbers have shrunk, but significant jet activity has filled that void.”

Compared to 2020, the SSA has seen enormous year-to-date traffic increases. Passenger traffic is up 40 per cent and vehicle traffic up 30 per cent from the pandemic year. The airport’s increases are even more comical. Enplanements in August were up more than 300 per cent compared to 2020. In May, that number was in the thousands.

On Island roads, traffic too showed changing patterns, according to limited data from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Data from permanent counters installed by the MVC just before the pandemic showed that July was the busiest month on Vineyard roads in 2021, a shift from past years. The data was provided by commission special projects planner Dan Doyle. Because the permanent counters were installed just prior to the pandemic, accurate pre-pandemic comparisons are unavailable.

While a site on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road near Morning Glory Farm recorded an average daily total of 12,625 cars in July of this year, that number lowered to 12,538 cars in August. A site on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road recorded a decrease of nearly 1,000 average daily cars in August, from 9,116 in July to 8,142 one month later.