SSA failing Island residents


To The Editor:

I have to question the math and management of the Steamship Authority’s Islander Preferred reservations system. I write this Sunday morning after telephonically punching my way through to the phone reservation center and being told that all of tomorrow (Monday) is sold out — six minutes after they began answering phones at 8 am.

I wonder what the meaning of preferred is in the Steamship Authority’s calculus for Island residents like me. I asked the woman that answered the phone how it could be possible that all of Monday was sold out in so little time, and she said the Steamship Authority only holds a few spots on each boat as preferred space.

I would like to know a number of things: (1) Who decides what’s an acceptable number of preferred slots in one day’s inventory? I’d like a name, please, not the dodge of a faceless bureacracy. (2) Exactly how many preferred slots are there per ship and per day? (3) How is the need for such space measured and satsified? (3) Are the preferred numbers seasonally adjusted? (4) What does the Steamship Authority do on an ongoing basis to monitor preferred demand by Island residents? How does it read and react to Islander demand, vital demand for residents who need convenient access to the mainland? (5) When was the last time the Steamship Authority changed the percentage of space it designates as preferred? Day and date, please.

I grasp the fact that the Steamship Authority’s interest is best served by running boats that are sold out. A healthy SSA is also good for the Island. But the present system is quite obviously incorrectly weighted to satisfy the general population of people traveling to and from the Vineyard. Preferred is pretty meaningless when the system consigns Island residents to the hordes of vacationers who, rabbit-like, begin calling at 7:59:59 am for a next-day reservation.

I tried it this morning at 7:59:59, with a cell phone in one hand and a house phone in the other — two-fisted dialing. I would rather be water-boarded than re-live what happens next. Busy signals, multiple recordings that your call didn’t go through, and, my favorite, the phone finally rings through to the Steamship Authority (confirmed on the cell screen) — but the phone rings long enough to trigger that knife-in-the heart recorded message: “Your party is not answering…please try your call again later.”

Island resident access to ferry space should be an operating priority of the Steamship Authority. If a separate phone line reserved for Island residents is cost-prohibitive or logistically impossible, the SSA should do something with its website reservation system that makes it easier for Island residents to book next-day reservations (and with greater inventory available). Or perhjaps the standby reservations system that operates well all year should be deployed for Islanders during the summer months.

Elders of the Steamship Authority, kindly answer my questions and in detail. At the moment, you are failing Island residents.

Charles Furlong