Josh Goldstein, one of the owners of Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven, trekked to Falmouth by ferry Wednesday to implore the Steamship Authority to let visitors know the ferries are back operating through advertisements in New York and Boston media outlets.
“We’re down. We’re down a lot. Our numbers are scary,” Goldstein told the board. “We survived a fire that burned our building to the ground. We survived a recession. This is frightening what’s happening here.”
Goldstein’s comments came at the Steamship Authority board’s meeting Tuesday inside its new Falmouth headquarters. At a port council meeting earlier this month, Goldstein told that panel his hotel’s revenue is off $150,000 year-to-year, which he attributes to the negative publicity the ferry service has gotten in recent months.
“Let people know that the great service that this authority has provided for the last 50-plus years … is back to where it should be,” Goldstein said. “We need to move, or we’re going to lose our August, and then you’re going to have to raise our rates, and no one is going to win.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, the SSA board announced that eight firms, including one from Germany and three from Seattle, have filed bids to do a complete management review of the SSA after a winter of mechanical breakdowns that included more than 549 missed ferry runs through the first four months of 2018.
Though there have been some glitches in the past two months, none has compared to March, where there was an unprecedented string of mechanical breakdowns of the MV Martha’s Vineyard and the MV Woods Hole, as well as a string of weather-related cancellations.
FRS Europe Holding GmbH, Ernst & Young, Foss Maritime Co., HMS Consulting and Technical, LLC, Hudson Pacific Capital Partners, KPFF Consulting Engineers, McKinsey & Co., and Proudfoot Management Consulting Group are the companies competing for the contract.
The SSA declined to release the detailed bids, saying they are not yet public record. Board members were provided copies for evaluation; they are expected to evaluate the bids without the financial information, and then those numbers will be released as the board discusses the proposals publicly on Tuesday, June 19, at 9:30 am. The meeting will be in Barnstable, but a location has not yet been pinned down, Steven Sayers, general counsel for the SSA, said.
Robert Jones, the Hyannis representative to the board, protested the tight timeframe to go through the bids. He also said that he would like to interview finalists before picking a consultant for the job.
Sayers said that could be left open, though he reminded the board of the urgency after a heavily attended meeting on the Island last month.
“The public would like us to move as quickly as possible on this,” Sayers said. “Certainly, the Martha’s Vineyard public would.”
Estimates have put the consulting project anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million, though the financial bids have not yet been opened.
Communication is key
Robert Davis, general manager of the Steamship Authority, introduced the ferry service’s new communications director, Sean Driscoll, a reporter at the Cape Cod Times. Driscoll will begin working later this month, and Davis said his first target will be beefing up the SSA’s social media presence, which is virtually nonexistent, as well as outreach to stakeholders like boards of selectmen and community groups. The SSA is also working on a mobile app, Davis said.
“We’re very happy you’re here. I hope you’re Superman,” Marc Hanover, the Island’s representative on the board, told Driscoll.
“My 5-year-old thinks so,” Driscoll deadpanned.
In other business, Davis said a pilot program was conducted at the Thomas Landers parking lot in Falmouth last weekend where tickets were sold to cut down on congestion inside the new temporary terminal building in Woods Hole. “It was very well received,” he said. Hanover praised that effort, and Davis said it will be used throughout the summer.
Davis provided numbers on the “on-time performance” of ferries on the Vineyard run. The initial numbers show that during May, the large vessels — Island Home, Martha’s Vineyard, and Woods Hole — arrived on time 90 percent of the time. Those same vessels departed on time 84 percent of the time, he said.
The on-time status was based on a standard of arriving or leaving within 5 minutes of the scheduled time, Davis said. Washington State uses 10 minutes for its standard, he said.
Eventually, the ferry service plans to report data for the Nantucket line, as well.
The board unanimously approved the 2019 winter and spring schedules for ferry service, which were published in The Times.
The board also approved a total overall wage and salary increase of 3 percent, with a salary structure adjustment of 2 percent for non-union employees, effective July 1. Davis said raises would be held off for senior staff, including him. “It’s not appropriate for us to be taking a wage adjustment until such time as the report is done and the board has time to evaluate it,” he said, noting it would be unfair to clerks and terminal employees to hold off on all non-union raises.
SSA’s new headquarters, where Tuesday’s meeting was held, is nearly complete, Davis said.
Talks continue on the possibility of using barges to remove solid waste from Martha’s Vineyard, Davis told the board. Meetings will be held soon to talk with officials in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, as well as Ralph Packer, Bruno’s, and Carroll’s about the cost of hauling trash by barge to New Bedford.
The financial cost is not a big difference, Sayers told the board, though he said it’s questionable how much it would reduce truck traffic to Woods Hole.
“We are a bit player in this,” Sayers said, noting it will be the towns that ultimately decide how trash is taken off-Island. “We’re trying to facilitate getting them information so they can make an informed decision.”
The feasibility of freight service by an independent ferry service from New Bedford was also discussed, though that seems to be fraught with roadblocks, including the cost of replacing a bridge and what the city wants to do with State Pier, Davis reported.
Two Woods Hole residents who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting urged the board to continue looking at ways of reducing truck traffic to and from the ferries. One of those men, Phil Richardson, said the SSA’s own numbers show that truck traffic has doubled in 20 years, and he wondered aloud what would happen in 20 more.
Paulette Silva-Souza, a commuter, praised the tent erected in Woods Hole to keep passengers waiting in line out of the elements, but expressed concern that it is temporary.
Sayers explained that the state building code only allows temporary structures like the tents for 180 days, though he said architects are looking at more permanent structures to provide shelter for travelers and commuters.
“What you’ve done for us this season is phenomenal,” Silva-Souza said.