The Steamship Authority board weighed eight consultant proposals Tuesday morning and found HMS Consulting and Technical and KPFF Consulting Engineers the best of the lot, ranking them “highly advantageous” prospects. They ultimately chose HMS, which is based in Seattle, Wash.
The firms were evaluated in seven categories ranging from the background information they offered to their proposed contracts, to their plans for fleet maintenance and vessel operations. HMS bid $217,917 to perform the study, while KPFF bid $556,000.
The decision comes after months of problems with the Steamship Authority ferries, including more than 500 missed trips in the first four months of the year due to mechanical breakdowns. The main culprits were two ferries — the MV Martha’s Vineyard, just back from an $18 million refurbishment, and the MV Woods Hole, SSA’s newest $46.6 million ferry. A drama-filled meeting on Martha’s Vineyard in May pushed the full SSA board to seek outside help.
“I like these guys a lot. A lot of East Coast experience, a lot of ferry experience,” Marc Hanover, the Vineyard’s representative on the board said of HMS.
Falmouth board member Elizabeth Gladfelter gave HMS passing marks in vessel operations and fleet maintenance, but expressed concern about the firm’s comprehension of Steamship Authority operations. She also described their operations and maintenance proposal as having “more jargon that substance.”
While Hanover liked KPFF, he expressed concern the company was heavily influenced by the Washington State Ferry System.
Gladfelter liked the comprehensiveness of the KPFF proposal, and pointed to the firm’s intention to execute a SWOT, Strengths Weakness Opportunities Threats, analysis as a plus.
Several board members questioned the KPFF price tag.
“This is twice as much because it’s a very comprehensive study over an eight-month period,” Gladfelter said. But she questioned whether the Steamship Authority needed to dive so deep for so much money.
The board deliberated further, and heard general counsel Steven Sayers’ reservations about indemnification clauses and limitations of liability presented in the HMS contract. They concluded those aspects could be negotiated and voted unanimously to retain HMS as the consultant. They reserved the right to return to their No. 2 candidate, KPFF, if they could not make headway on the issues Sayers pointed out.
In several instances, Hanover and Gladfelter starkly differed in their appraisals of proposal strength. One example was Ernst and Young. Hanover found the vessel operations and fleet maintenance component of the Ernst and Young proposal “quite attractive, highly advantageous.” Gladfelter described the same component as “not advantageous,” for showing a limited understanding of the stakeholders, among other things. She criticized the biographical information on the team Ernst and Young would field by pointing out they have “extensive management experience,” but, “there is no strong indication of understanding of ferry operations in their full complexity in general and a poor understanding of SSA in particular …”
Chairman Robert Ranney, representative for Nantucket, also found Ernst and Young lacking. “To me this proposal seemed generic and vague,” he said. He added, “They list food service employees as stakeholders, and also they fail to mention anything about Nantucket at all.”
Sayers pointed out five of the eight applicants did not provide a list of clients the Steamship Authority could contact. Sayers said he and procurement officer Peggy Nickerson reached out to the Massachusetts Inspector General’s office, and were told the absence of a client list was sufficient grounds to reject a proposal outright, should the board choose to do so.
“Because our RFP was based upon Chapter 30B’s provisions, even though we are not governed by Chapter 30B, we thought it would be prudent to ask the IG’s office whether, under Chapter 30B, we would have had to reject the proposals that did not provide client contact information as instructed,” Sayers wrote in an email Wednesday. “The people we talked with said that while we could reject them, under Chapter 30B we would not be required to do so, and that another option would be simply to assign those proposals an ‘Unacceptable’ rating in those particular non-price evaluation criteria. Accordingly, that was my recommendation to the board.”
Barnstable representative Robert Jones said if a firm is going to consult for the Steamship Authority, “attention to detail is required,” and leaving out a client list from the RFP did not appear indicative of that.
“To the extent that somebody doesn’t accurately respond in the very first phase to the RFP — unacceptable no matter who they are,” New Bedford representative Moira Tierney said.
The board ultimately categorized the experience of those five firms, Ernst and Young, FRS Europe Holding GmbH, Hudson Pacific Capital Partners, McKinsey & Co., and Alexander Proudfoot Co., as “unacceptable,” but did not knock them out of the running solely for lack of client references.
HMS was not among the applicants without a client list. HMS listed the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Ferry Division, the Delaware River Bridge Authority Cape May–Lewes Ferry, NYC Ferry, and Hawaii Superferry, among others. HMS also cited clients of two subcontractors, Glosten and Rigor Analytics, it proposed to collaborate with on the consultation. Among Glosten’s clients are the Alaska Marine Highway System and among Rigor Analytic’s clients are Viking River Cruises.
The board almost didn’t walk away with a decision, because they considered scheduling HMS and KPFF for in-person presentations.
“We’re judging the total contract on what they’ve written,” Jones said, “and what they’ve written in many cases is just boilerplate stuff that we’ve got to wade through to find out how good the company is … and I think you get a different feel for them when they come in and explain the questions we might have.”
Prior to the bid amounts being disclosed, Tierney estimated they would be at least six figures, and wanted to meet the applicants “if we’re going to spend that kind of money.”
Jones began to backpedal on calling in applicants after some board members expressed disapproval, and said he was willing to align with the will of the board. “I hate to be waffling on this,” he said.
“I feel strongly about it,” Tierney said. “I think it’s important.” She likened the board’s pace on selection as “kind of a rush,” and said meeting the consultant teams in person would help differentiate HMS and KPFF, which she described as “pretty comparable” other than what they intend to charge, which she had not yet learned.
All board members except Tierney indicated they would not support summoning applicants for presentations due to the time it would consume.
“I’m in the minority, but I would still like a vote just to preserve the record,” she said.
The board voted 4 to 1 to nix presentations and forge ahead with their decision process at the meeting. The board decided on HMS less than an hour later.
“It’s a good start,” Hanover said Wednesday. “Let’s hope they produce. It’s imperative we get all the answers we need.”