Despite some confusion about new ticketing policies implemented by Peter Pan Bus Lines (PPBL) on February 5, it’s business as usual for Vineyarders taking buses. The changes do not apply to arrangements with the Steamship Authority (SSA) or service to and from the Cape, PPBL vice president of operations Frank Dougherty told The Times in a phone call Tuesday.
“The Cape has not moved into the new ticketing procedure yet,” Mr. Dougherty said. “We’re still working out some of the difficulties of people traveling on a plane, a bus, and a ferry, and trying to figure out what’s the best to do.”
PPBL operates trips from a terminal in Woods Hole across from the SSA. Many Vineyard residents and visitors step off a ferry to take a bus to Boston to catch a plane or train, or transfer to a New York-bound bus in Bourne.
PPBL launched a new “shopping cart” feature on its website on February 5, along with major revisions in purchasing tickets. Among them, all passengers are now required to reserve space by buying trip-specific tickets printed with the date and time. If their plans change, there is a fee of $15 to $20, depending on the route, to get a ticket reissued.
For passengers using service on the Cape, however, PPBL drivers will continue to accept any ticket purchased on a particular day for any trip, as in the past, Mr. Dougherty said. The online ticket policy remains unchanged and requires a date of travel and return date.
Passengers may buy a reserved seat or standby ticket. If they miss a bus on which they have a reserved seat, they will be boarded on the next bus with seats available as a standby, and won’t be charged an extra fee.
“Our intention down at Woods Hole is to do as we’ve always done, which is to provide enough buses to carry the people that show up with a ticket,” he said. “So there’s no change on the near horizon for that area.”
In other destinations served by PPBL, the bus company has developed a “capacity managed system,” Mr. Dougherty explained. It is similar to those used by airlines and Amtrak, which require advance reservations for travel on a particular date and time. PPBL’s goal is to implement such a system in all of its service areas.
“Now, there are some details that would have to be worked out to move that into the Cape,” he said, “and those would deal with the ferry and with the Steamship Authority and working out a relationship where we could capacity manage the people who are buying tickets on the ferry that intend to get on the bus.
“And as of right now,” he added, “we have not worked that out and we don’t think that’s going to happen in the very near future. I don’t think it will happen by this summer.”
A matter of numbers
Vineyard-bound travelers often count on spontaneity and flexibility in making bus and ferry connections, especially when planes or trains run late. As Mr. Dougherty pointed out, however, the problem with ticketing flexibility is not knowing how many people will show up for a bus. “We’re trying to get it to a point where people tell us when they want to travel,” he said.
Otherwise, what can happen, for example, is that in the summer two or three buses may be waiting for an expected 150 passengers to walk off a ferry, and instead 250 show up.
“So we have no idea we’d get that many, and you’ve got 100 people who are upset or stranded,” Mr. Dougherty said. “What we’re trying to do is make that traveling experience much more pleasant for the majority of people.”
No customer comment
The announced ticketing changes raised concerns for frequent PPBL passengers such as West Tisbury resident Robert Wasserman, an international security consultant. He often rides the bus between Woods Hole and Boston Logan International Airport. In an email to The Times, Mr. Wasserman questioned whether the new policies would impact the SSA’s ability to sell bus tickets, which are not trip-specific.
In a follow-up phone conversation with The Times, Mr. Wasserman said he learned of the ticketing changes from his son-in-law, who read about them in an announcement on the PPBL website. It does not mention that the new policies do not apply to Cape service. Mr. Wasserman said South Station PPBL ticket agents do not mention that, either.
“The larger issue I’m concerned about is they didn’t put this out for their customers to at least comment on,” he said. “It totally doesn’t fit with Martha’s Vineyard, where the Steamship Authority issues tickets, and they are not issuing them with a particular trip in mind. We all buy round-trip tickets knowing we can use the other half when we come back to the city, and we often don’t know what bus we’ll be on.”
Regarding possible future ticketing changes that will affect Cape passengers, Mr. Dougherty said as a private company PPBL has no plans to hold community discussions or ask for public comment. He agreed it would be helpful to update PPBL’s website to inform passengers that the new ticketing policies are not in effect for Cape service.
Mr. Dougherty said PPBL has not had any discussions yet with the SSA.
“We haven’t got the system worked out where we’re comfortable enough going to the Steamship Authority and saying this is how we would work so that it doesn’t affect the ferry and their business,” he said. “We’re still in the infancy of figuring out how you would get around the differences with the Cape business versus the other cleaner point-to-point service. And then when we think we’ve got a good plan, we’ll sit down with the Steamship Authority and the agencies involved, probably Logan Airport, and discuss what we intend on doing.”
PPBL will announce any future changes on its website, on flyers in bus terminals, and in advertisements, Mr. Dougherty said. More information about PPBL service is available online at www.peterpanbus.com or by calling customer service at 800-343-9999.