Steamship Authority rejiggers Martha’s Vineyard preferred space


The Steamship Authority has modified the procedures it uses to distribute one of the most sought-after commodities on Martha’s Vineyard.

Acting on the recommendations of management, the authority members agreed Tuesday to increase the number of preferred space reservations on the most desirable trips, increase the number of spaces for especially tall vehicles, and to allow space to go on sale one half hour earlier than is now allowed.

The preferred space system permits qualified year-round and seasonal Martha’s Vineyard residents to jump ahead of other travelers when making a reservation for travel during peak travel periods.

Currently, the boatline sets aside 120 vehicle spaces per day during the summer and 80 spaces per day during the off-season. Of those reserved in the summer, 91 are designated for the seven-day advance reservation program.

In December, management proposed changes in the program designed to address several issues that included lessening congestion at the Vineyard Haven terminal where the confluence of people arriving on the 7:45 am boat from Woods Hole, those departing on the busy 8:15 return (one of the busier trips of the day) and those planning to travel the next day or week, compete for the attention and time of the ticket agents and parking spaces.

On Tuesday the board agreed that beginning April 2, preferred space reservations for the Martha’s Vineyard route would go on sale in person, over the SSA website, and by telephone at 7:30 am instead of 8 am. As a result, the business hours of the Mashpee and Martha’s Vineyard Airport reservation offices will be 7:30 am to 4 pm daily, rather 8 am to 4:30 pm.

Over the past several months, management reviewed the daily allocation of preferred spaces. According to a management summary of the meeting, the boatline analysis was intended to determine whether the availability and distribution of preferred spaces met the needs of Vineyard travelers.

“Ultimately, we concluded that, while the overall number of available preferred spaces each day is sufficient (120 spaces for travel off Island during the summer and 80 spaces for travel off Island during the off-season), more over-height spaces are needed when preferred spaces go on sale one day in advance of sailing,” the report said.

“We also concluded that, during the summer, the distribution of preferred spaces throughout the day could be improved by having some preferred spaces on the freight trip that leaves the Island at 8:30 am instead of on the trips leaving the Island at 6 am and 7 am.”

The board members agreed to convert 13 preferred spaces in the summer and 6 in the off-season to over-height (six-feet, six-inches) preferred spaces in the center lanes. It also agreed to allocate 8 new preferred spaces on the 8:30 am freight boat and reduce by 8 the total number of preferred spaces on the earliest morning and late evening off-Island trips.

Preferred spaces have not been allocated on freight vessels in the past.

Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, told The Times that the review also highlighted the fact that many Island residents are not aware that seven-day in advance preferred space reservations remain available for booking up to four days in advance of the day of sailing before they are released to the general public.

A management analysis of reservations made from May to October 2011 showed that 50 percent of all seven-day preferred spaces were still available to book four days prior to the departure date.

In other business, Mr. Lamson told the board that unless directed otherwise, the SSA would allow its license agreement with SeaStreak to automatically renew.

As a result, SeaStreak will continue to provide high-speed ferry service between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard through at least September 30, 2013. The contract that initiated the private high-speed service allows the SSA to take over the route.

“Based upon all of the information we have compiled,” Mr. Lamson said in his management report, “we have concluded that it simply would not be financially prudent for the Authority to take over this ferry service at this time and, instead, that this route will be better served by having a private operator (SeaStreak) continue to provide the service.”