At Large: The Steamship Authority maintains a careful balance

At Large: The Steamship Authority maintains a careful balance

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A Steamship Authority analysis of its cost of service on Vineyard routes over the five years from 2007 through 2011 shows an enterprise experiencing modestly growing revenues and making a successful effort to keep expenses in line.

During the five years, total cost of service has risen seven percent, from about $40.7 million to about $43.5 million. Revenue during the same period has also increased about seven percent, from $40.6 million to $43.5 million. The cost of each trip, including direct and indirect expenses, has risen six percent, from $2,787 to $2,938.

The analysis was done by Robert B. Davis, the boatline’s treasurer and comptroller, and presented to the members in May. It shows that the performance of the line’s Nantucket service, although restraining costs similarly, has lost ground on the revenue side. The total cost of service on Nantucket routes grew from about $23.8 million to $24.4 million, a 2.4 percent jump. The Nantucket cost of service per trip is higher than for the Vineyard — understandably because of the length of each trip and the lower level of service — so that the cost grew from $4,913 in 2007 to $5,534 last year. In 2011, the boatline operated 4,403 trips on the Nantucket route, compared with 14,798 between Woods Hole and the Vineyard.

For Nantucket, total revenue during the five years fell, from $25.6 million to $24.9 million, a three-percent slide.

A combination of cost containment and reduced service in the form of fewer trips helped the Steamship Authority members and management to align costs and revenues. This, along with targeted rate increases, kept the line safely in the black.

Although on the Vineyard routes, the SSA operated about 100 more trips in 2011 than it did in 2007, over that time the line maintained an average occupancy rate of between 79.8 percent (2007) and 78.3 percent (2011), and it saw revenue grow in each of its customer lines of business — passengers, autos, and trucks. In addition, over the five-year period, the boatline increased the total share of auto carrying costs actually paid by auto fares, from 92.1 percent in 2007 to 94.6 percent. About 130 percent of the cost of carrying an automobile is paid for by a standard fare automobile. Excursion rate auto fares cover only about 38 percent of the actual cost of that service. Overall, freight traffic helps offset the excursion rate shortfall by paying 10 percent more than the actual cost of ferry service for a truck. Passengers pay 100 percent of the cost of carrying them.

What lies ahead? The line’s most recent cost and revenue numbers suggest that more careful balancing of the cost of service and projected revenues will be required, plus some rate adjustments.

Looking at cost of service numbers for 2010 and 2011 only and only for the Vineyard routes, Mr. Davis highlights an overall reduction in cost of service of about $62,000 last year, compared with the year before. Consequently, although the number of trips increased from 2010 to 2011 by 134, the cost per trip fell $31. The number of autos carried rose 1,947, but the number of trucks fell by roughly 1,700, and unsurprisingly freight revenue fell by $19,000. Higher revenue for passengers and autos in 2011, totaling $823,000, offset the freight revenue decline.

Leaving aside fare hikes, boatline members and managers have, over the past two years, let the share of the actual costs of excursion fare auto travel rise from 37.7 percent to 38.5 percent, the share of the standard rate auto space rise from about 125 percent to 130 percent, and the share of freight space rise on average from 106 percent to 110 percent. That means that although the excursion rate auto is paying slightly more of its actual cost, the standard fare auto traveler and the trucker are shouldering a larger share of the burden for the Islander who wants to travel off Island with the car.

Frank Rapoza tries something new

There are good carpenters, and then there are gifted artists who carpenter. These latter make the unexpected, the thing you haven’t imagined or seen before. They may work with wood, but the idea and the medium suggest themselves, and they may be something else altogether. Quahog shells, perhaps.

Frank Rapoza of West Tisbury is that combination of craftsman and artist who can build a boat or redesign one, design an intricate cabinet and build it, carve a sign, or caulk a deck. He’s a fixture on the Vineyard Haven waterfront and a sought-after contributor to historic marine construction and reconstruction efforts.

Now, Frank has turned his eye, his hand, and his imagination to what he calls Wampum Mosaics. These works, framed in exotic, aged hardwoods, feature shaped and polished shells whose arrangement in the frames suggests the application of a painter’s hand and eye. Although the materials are naturally occurring, the genius is in the collaboration of the pieces and the geometry of Mr. Rapoza’s design.

Mr. Rapoza may be reached at 508-693-3530, and he accepts commissions.

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