Editorial: It’s been a slow, beleaguered 2014 so far

Editorial: It’s been a slow, beleaguered 2014 so far

If you judge that the pace of Island economic life has seemed plodding during the first two months of the year, you are correct. If you wonder if the cold and snow, not only here, but across New England, has played a part in the dirge-like business music, you are right again.

Of course, anecdotally, your sense of business being slow and your mood being low need no corroboration, but looking for quantifiable measures of the lethargy, you need look no further than the Steamship Authority figures for January, which have declined sharply by every measurement of operating volume.

The M/V Martha's Vineyard.
The M/V Martha’s Vineyard.

For the line as a whole, from all ports to both islands, passengers are off 4.4 percent compared with the January 7-February 7 period a year ago. For the Vineyard service, the damage was 4.8 percent, for Nantucket 1.7 percent.

Counting automobiles, this year’s first month was off 3.8 percent for the line, 3.9 percent for Vineyard cars and 3.8 percent for Nantucket.

For trucks, that is, freight, the decline was 2.8 percent for service to the two islands, down 3.8 percent for Vineyard freight and unchanged for Nantucket.

Saturday at bedtime, when we set our clocks ahead — a quaint notion in this modern age, when clocks update themselves by getting digitally together with the national atomic clock in Colorado and cell phones, cable boxes, computers, etc. tend to the time business themselves — you will be forgiven if you ring some bells and frisk about the room in happy anticipation of the arrival soon, and just in the nick of time, of spring. Sunday morning, when Daylight Savings Time begins, we mark the beginning of the end of winter. As that woman used to say, It’s a good thing.

But, back to the Steamship Authority figures for a moment. An interesting and highly unusual aspect of the boatline’s report finds that for the first time in a very long time, the lost traffic volume during the first month of the year has led to a decline in revenue. Generally, boatline rate increases have outdistanced low traffic volumes and even marginal declines. After all, what the Steamship Authority does when its sales decline over long periods is raise its rates to offset the revenue impacts of fewer passengers and fewer automobiles. During January, revenue from passengers fell 2.2 percent and five tenths of a percent from cars. At the same time, thanks to freight rate increases, although truck traffic declined three tenths of a percent, truck revenue jumped 4.3 percent.

All of this statistical information released by the Steamship Authority might very well have been worse. The numbers come with a note from assistant treasurer Kathleen J. Walters, who writes, “Following an audit of ticket collection activity, it was discovered that, due to a computer error, a number of point-of-sale tickets for passengers, autos, and trucks were not being included in the total ticket count for the period. Corrections have been made, and the reports have been updated.”

That’s what we’re looking for — an upgrade from cold weather and snow, a little more sun, and an early spring.

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