“We’re Screwed”: UPS Misses The Boat On Summer Steamship Reservations

Shipping Giant And Steamship Left Scrambling To Ensure Packages Get Delivered On Time To The Island

Written By: Jason Graziadei | Photography By: Cary Hazlegrove, NantucketStock.com

If you thought getting a package delivered on Nantucket was a challenge the past two years, well, buckle up. 

Multiple sources have confirmed that UPS, the shipping and receiving giant, failed to secure its normal boat reservations aboard the Steamship Authority ferries for the upcoming summer season. During those peak months, the volume is so significant that UPS traditionally sends two to three trailers of packages from Hyannis to Nantucket on a daily basis aboard the Steamship vessels. That includes most, if not all, of the Amazon orders destined for the island, as the e-commerce giant has not yet established an outpost of its own burgeoning delivery service on Nantucket. 

The potential for UPS to be without some or all of its boat reservations this summer could have severe impacts for island businesses, organizations and families that rely on its deliveries and services. The Steamship and UPS are reportedly working diligently to rectify the situation, but with demand for reservations already at an all-time high and so many already taken, there are limited options remaining, leading UPS to even consider chartering a barge to transport packages over to the island. 

The UPS shipping center on Old South Road.

“We’re screwed,” one UPS driver told the Current on Monday at the company’s facility off Old South Road. The driver said there were no UPS supervisors on the island to comment specifically about the situation. “Corporate has to figure this out,” they said. 

Rob Ranney, Nantucket’s representative on the Steamship Authority Board of Governors, said this week that he is aware of the situation and that the boat line is working with UPS to determine the best options available. 

But how did it happen in the first place? Ranney said that UPS, like other commercial trucking and fuel companies, utilize the Steamship’s bulk reservation system. They traditionally submit a request for truck reservations for the upcoming season – usually similar to what they asked for in prior years – to the point that it’s almost automatic, Ranney said. 

But that’s not what happened this year with UPS. 

“When those bulk freight packages were sent out to the shippers – I think in October or November – the truck coordinator in charge of reservations didn’t get anything back from UPS,” Ranney said. “They said ‘huh, that’s weird.’ And they called and didn’t get any responses. Some time went by before they were saying ‘you’re in danger of losing or have lost your reservations.’ That got someone’s attention higher-up in the organization.”

But by that time, Ranney said, most of UPS’ traditional summer reservations were already gone. 

“There’s a gap between what they want and what they’re getting because, of course, the boats fill up and if you don’t take it, it goes to someone else,” Ranney said. “The Steamship is working with UPS. I don’t know how serious it’s going to be or not. It’s going to take some shuffling.”

A UPS corporate spokesperson, who only identified themself as “Carmen” with UPS Communications, provided a statement via e-mail to the Current: “Our priority is to maintain outstanding service reliability for all our customers. UPS has ferry reservations and is working on other transportation options to ensure packages are delivered on time to the island during the busy summer season.”

While some UPS packages arrive on Nantucket by air freight, the vast majority of parcels arrive by Steamship. Ranney said it might be the case that UPS will have to take reservations on late boats and other times outside its normal schedule, which will likely still present challenges as its workforce may not be on duty when the trailers arrive. 

Sean Driscoll, the Steamship’s communications director, said he could not comment specifically about the situation with UPS, but indicated the boat line regularly works to rectify logistical issues with critical service providers to the island that rely on the Steamship. 

“Obviously any time one of our customers or freight customers has an issue, especially one related to delivering the essentials of life to the island, we’ll do everything we can to accommodate them within the constraints we have: X number of boats taking Y number of vehicles,” Driscoll said. “But the laws of physics are in play here. I can’ talk about UPS specifically or any of their trips. But in any circumstance like that we would work with them on a solution. We know the importance of freight shipments to the island.”

At Sun Island Delivery, another island trucking business that delivers most of Nantucket’s food to the Stop & Shop supermarkets, Jim Connolly said he had heard about the UPS situation, but that the shipping giant had not reached out to Sun Island for assistance. Regardless of what happens with UPS, the summer of 2022 is going to be a challenge for all the trucking and shipping companies that serve the island given the demand for goods and services, he said.

“We’re all in the same boat and already panicking about how we’re going to handle the season, so when that (the UPS situation) hit, we said ‘holy s***’,” Connolly said. “What it means is, who’s going to get bumped? Because we know they’re going to get some priority. Or they’re going to have to do the thing the rest of us do: get on standby. But it’s not going to be next-day delivery that’s for sure.”

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