Every weekday morning and afternoon, throngs of mainland residents with Island jobs pass through the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal. Many lug tool boxes and wear hard hats over hoodies and fluorescent safety vests. They are bound to and from construction sites around the Vineyard. Others work medical, office and conservation jobs, usually with their employers paying the ferry fare.

While most of these commuters take Steamship Authority ferries from Woods Hole, a few dozen are now making their way to and from the Vineyard via New Bedford aboard the Whaling City Express, a high-speed catamaran for passengers only. Operated by Seastreak, Inc. under license from the Steamship Authority, the New Bedford commuter service began last fall and now brings close to 40 off-Cape workers to Island jobs five days a week.

This week, the Gazette joined the commuters as they headed back to the mainland on Tuesday afternoon and returned to work on the Vineyard Wednesday morning. The ferry leaves New Bedford at 6 a.m. and Vineyard Haven at 4:30 p.m. It also provides service off the Island, leaving Vineyard Haven at 7:15 a.m. and returning from New Bedford at 3:15 p.m.

Mainland-based riders who spoke with the Gazette aboard the Whaling City Express had nothing but praise for the Seastreak service.

“This boat is great,” said carpenter Dennis Bowden, who wore a Squash Meadow Construction shirt as he ferried back to New Bedford Tuesday afternoon.

It’s still more than a 12-hour day, he said, but the New Bedford commute spares him more than an hour longer on the road. Squash Meadow pays his fare, he added.

Commuter service began this winter. — Ray Ewing

“It’s the bridges that kill you,” Mr. Bowden said.

Sitting with Mr. Bowden, self-employed carpenter and New Bedford native Gene Felix said he appreciates the patient and friendly way Seastreak employees handle passengers with questions or problems.

“The people here are just amazing,” Mr. Felix said. “It’s day and night from the way you’re treated in Woods Hole.”

Traveling through Woods Hole also would lengthen his commute from Pawtucket, R.I., when he’s already spending more than 13 hours a day working and traveling, Mr. Felix said.

“Monday through Friday, from five in the morning to six-thirty or seven at night, I’ve got nothing to do but make money to support my family,” he said.

But while those on the boat are pleased, the company had hoped for more riders during its inaugural winter commuter service, said Seastreak director of sales and marketing James Barker. In 2023, 173,715 Steamship Authority passengers used the 46-ride ticket cards available at a discounted rate. That’s up from nearly 145,000 in 2022.

But despite the rising demand for Steamship Authority commuter service, Seastreak is struggling to attract the ridership it needs to break even.

“It’s been growing, but very, very slowly,” Mr. Barker said.

Riders using the service include Derek Evers and half-dozen of his fellow electricians who are working on the Tisbury School project in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Evers said the high-speed ferry takes an hour and a half off his commute from Woonsocket, R.I.

Other construction trades workers — some 35 in all on the Tuesday afternoon boat — sat or napped in their seats as the ferry surged through Buzzards Bay on its 55-minute trip home. The sole female commuter on board, a medical student named Alyssa Signs, video-chatted quietly on her phone.

Singer-songwriter and guitarist James Taylor was also heading home on Tuesday’s boat, but not from work. The recording artist and longtime Vineyarder was on his way back to western Massachusetts after visiting his son Ben, brother Hugh and other Island relatives, he told the Gazette.

Disembarking in New Bedford, where Seastreak’s valet service had his car ready pier-side, Mr. Taylor greeted Mr. Felix as they walked off the boat. The two men spoke briefly with the easy familiarity of commuter comrades before peeling off in their separate directions: Mr. Felix to Rhode Island and Mr. Taylor to the Berkshires.

Ms. Signs, the medical student and one of the only female commuters from New Bedford, told the Gazette on her Wednesday morning commute to the Island that without the Seastreak she likely would not have been able to do her clinical training at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

“That was definitely a huge factor for me,” said Ms. Signs, who lives in Fairhaven and said taking the Steamship Authority would effectively double her commute.

New Bedford resident Rebekah Myers, the Nature Conservancy’s stewardship manager for southeastern Massachusetts and the Islands, also was on Wednesday morning’s Vineyard-bound ferry.

She’s not a daily commuter, Ms. Myers said, but takes the boat every few weeks to check on the conservancy’s properties on Martha’s Vineyard. This week, she said, she’ll be mowing the Hoft Farm Preserve in West Tisbury.

The Seastreak service made it possible for her to take the Nature Conservancy job, Ms. Myers said, because she prefers not to live full-time in the nonprofit’s communal housing on Island.

“This has been really nice,” she said.

While ridership numbers have not met Seastreak expectations, Mr. Barker said the commuter trips will continue through the summer.

“Our spring and summer season schedule is going to continue to have the 6 a.m. run on the schedule, so people will still be able to use it as a commuter service,” Mr. Barker said.

It’s not yet clear whether the stand-alone weekday schedule will return this winter, however.

“We’re happy to run it as long as it’s not a money-losing proposition for Seastreak,” Mr. Barker said. “Maybe someday it could be more lucrative. In the near term, we just want to run it and not lose money.”

Mr. Barker said he and his father, company president James (Jim) Barker, are pinning their hopes to the railway service that’s expected to connect New Bedford with Boston beginning later this year.

“We’ll be running shuttle buses all the time from our terminal in New Bedford to the train station, for free,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a better way to get up to Boston and from Boston to Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. Barker said.