Updated, Friday, Nov. 4, 1:19pm*
On Monday afternoon, Oct. 31, the Steamship Authority (SSA) board of directors, meeting in Woods Hole, voted unanimously to approve Robert B. Davis for the position of general manager when current general manager Wayne Lamson retires in June 2017.
Mr. Lamson has earned a reputation as a thoughtful, deliberative, and understated leader over the course of a career that included four stints as the interim head of the boatline before he was permanently named to the top post in December 2004.
He announced his retirement in July 2016, one year prior to his departure. At the time he said one of his goals was to work with the SSA board members to develop a selection process and transition plan for the appointment of his successor. Mr. Davis was regarded as the frontrunner from the beginning.
Mr. Davis, treasurer and comptroller at the SSA, began at the SSA as an auditor in 1986. He was promoted to chief auditor and office manager in 1995, to assistant treasurer in 1997, and to his current position in 2005.
Speaking to The Times on Wednesday, Nov. 2, Mr. Davis said the reconstruction of the new Woods Hole terminal would be a top priority. “It’s going to be an ongoing project for six or seven years,” he said. “We also need to keep an eye on meeting demand while we keep the vessels and terminals properly maintained.”
Mr. Lamson said he’ll have a full plate before he sails off into retirement, with the terminal reconstruction topping his list.
“We’re pretty close to completing the permitting phase,” he told The Times on Wednesday. “There’s been one appeal on our waterways license, which is the last permit we need to move forward. The hearing is set for the end of January, and we hope to have a decision by the end of March.”
The permitting process for the new terminal has taken more than two years, and has at times elicited heated public debate.
Mr. Lamson said the next step in the terminal reconstruction is moving the administrative offices to a nearby temporary location, which is currently occupied by metered parking spaces, leased to the Town of Falmouth by the SSA. “They will begin to mobilize next week,” he said. “Also next week we’ll be opening proposals for the construction of a temporary terminal building in Woods Hole, to be completed by the end of 2017. That will be need to be completed by the end of next year so the demolition of the current terminal building can begin.”
Mr. Lamson said the midlife refurbishment of the Martha’s Vineyard will also be passed along to Mr. Davis. “We’re going to open those bids in January, and work will begin right after Labor Day 2017 until March of 2018,” Mr. Lamson said.
Regarding the ongoing contretemps about shipping cargo between the Vineyard and New Bedford, Mr. Lamson doesn’t think this is an issue Mr. Davis will have to address in the foreseeable future.
“The staff has been doing a feasibility study, and they found that the State Pier in New Bedford is in pretty bad shape and needs to be rebuilt. There are weight restrictions on the pier, so trucks can’t drive on it. The mayor has said he doesn’t want to see freight brought onto the State Pier, and the city council sent us a letter saying they would like to see freight brought in. But until we have a facility in New Bedford we can operate from, it’s really not an option. They have to put tens of millions of dollars into a facility first.”
Mr. Lamson added that a dedicated cargo boat to New Bedford would require the SSA to use its spare boat, leaving SSA passengers on other routes vulnerable to bad weather or mechanical failure.
Mr. Lamson said he and Mr. Davis will also be taking a close look at potential scheduling changes before he departs, in particular expanding the late summer schedule, in response to this year’s post–Columbus Day crush.
“The immediate change we made was to triple-crew the MV Woods Hole, meaning we have crews on 18 hours a day,” he said. “At our December meeting, we’ll have some recommendations for changes in the October schedule, and after a 30-day comment period, the board will then need to approve it, probably in January.”
Over his long tenure, Mr. Lamson said the state of the economy has been the consistent driver of SSA traffic. “It was increasing slightly, and then we hit the recession in 2008, and that leveled things off for a number of years. We’re seeing the economy come back, and we’re seeing large construction projects on the Island, so the materials and the workers from off-Island have increased.”
Mr. Lamson said he was confident that his focus on customer service will be carried on by Mr. Davis: “We’ll continue to chip away at improving customer service, we’ll continue to do surveys. We tend to get pretty good marks, but there’s always room for improvement. We’ll also be looking to upgrade technology, so customers can purchase tickets on mobile phones and show your phone like you do at the airport. We’ll also be looking to add more bandwidth. We’ll always be looking to improve.”
*A paragraph has been removed; we erred in reporting that Dylan Fernandes’ supports the New Bedford alternative. Mr. Fernandes has said that he supports evaluating the options.