Boatline approves 2009 budget; no rate hikes
Steamship Authority members, meeting Tuesday in Hyannis, approved a $79,900,000 operating budget for 2009, an increase of eight tenths of one percent over the current 2008 estimated spending plan. But, the new spending plan includes no rate increases, at least in part because of rate hikes adopted in May of this year.
Wayne Lamson, the boatline's general manager, in response to a question from a Cape Cod Times reporter, said that fare increases might range from 2.10 percent in 2010 to 2.8 percent in 2014, if traffic volumes stagnate and expenses continue to rise at a three percent rate. But, Mr. Lamson emphasized yesterday that such a projection was a "hypothetical exercise" of little real value, because of the many variables, including not only traffic volumes but fuel prices and other costs. The boatline's financial goal in this projection would be "to maintain an operating margin of around four million dollars per year."
The members also reviewed 2009 summer and fall schedules, which are mostly the same as the schedules this year, except that between June 24 and September 9, the Sankaty's 6:30 pm trip from Woods Hole will go to Vineyard Haven, not Oak Bluffs, and the Martha's Vineyard's 7:30 pm trip from Woods Hole will also go to Vineyard Haven. These changes would allow the boatline to close the Oak Bluffs terminal after the 6:15 pm departure by the Martha's Vineyard. The terminal would consequently need only one shift of employees, not two, saving the line about $45,000.
This management proposal brought protests from Vineyard member Marc Hanover and Oak Bluffs port council member Robert Huss. Both argued that it made no sense to close the terminal earlier than in the past, in light of the $12 million the boatline is spending to upgrade the terminal, and because business in Oak Bluffs may be harmed and marine traffic congestion in Vineyard Haven increased.
In his summary of the meeting, Mr. Lamson wrote, "I think it is safe to say that we will be withdrawing this proposed change to the Martha's Vineyard summer schedule before it is brought back to the board for a vote in November."
The members agreed to changes in the New England Fast Ferry schedule. The New Bedford fast ferry will continue to run twice a day every day through November 30, this year, then twice a day on weekdays only, through April 17.
The 2009 budget reflects $1 million in additional healthcare and pension costs, a jump of 9.5 percent. Wages will rise 3.4 percent, or $976,000. Maintenance costs are estimated to decline $1.9 million, largely because the 2008 budget for maintenance was so high, due to Nantucket terminal repairs and a $200,000 cost for the boatline's Flying Cloud fast ferry, which was sold.
Fuel costs are estimated to retreat about $425,000, or 4.1 percent, if crude oil is priced at $105 per barrel and the line runs 843 fewer trips. But, acknowledging that the price of crude is much lower than $105 today, members asked management to consider ways the SSA might hedge against increases in fuel prices in the uncertain future.
Members learned that the reconstruction of the SSA's Fairhaven maintenance facility is substantially complete. The cost was about $2.25 million, roughly $750,000 less than had been estimated for the work. About $50,000 more is left to be spent on concrete curbings and mooring fenders at the transfer bridge on the south side of the terminal.