SSA reduces trips in face of slack demand
The Steamship Authority (SSA) Tuesday voted to reduce the freight vessel Katama's schedule from a maximum of seven roundtrips to four roundtrips per day beginning on April 4.
Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, cited "current weak economic conditions" as the reason for the schedule cuts. Mr. Lamson told the members that decreased commercial truck traffic to Martha's Vineyard left some voyages of the Katama underused. The change will result in savings as the SSA moves from a triple crew schedule to a double crew. The change will affect the 4 pm, 6:30 pm, and 8:45 pm departures, but unscheduled freight vessel trips will be available if needed during busier times, such as the April school vacation week, management said.
The SSA business summary for January 2009 showed the number of passengers, automobiles, and trucks carried to both Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard is down overall. For the Vineyard, commercial truck traffic shows the largest percentage decline.
Total operating costs for the boatline were down $854,789 or 15 percent from the projected 2009 budget, but with less patronage overall, Mr. Lamson called the reduced freight schedule part of a "balancing act."
"We are being proactive and redoubling our efforts to reduce our operating costs where possible," Mr. Lamson said. "We are trying to identify areas for potential savings in order to offset potential revenue losses if we continue to see a drop off in traffic from last year's levels."
Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, voted to approve the reduced freight schedules but expressed concern. "I don't want to get the calls saying, I can't get a reservation, I can't get on the boat. We want to encourage people to come. It's going to be a real balancing act this season," he said.
Carl Walker, director of engineering, said the Oak Bluffs terminal reconstruction is on schedule. Modifications to the terminal wharf include a larger surface area, permitting passenger loading and unloading from two vessel exits simultaneously.
Acknowledging the popularity of the SSA's free WiFi, and limited bandwidth that prevents passengers from accessing popular websites such as Facebook and MySpace, Mr. Lamson said the boatline is examining improved Internet service, at an estimated cost of $5,000 to $6,000.
SSA traffic dropped in the first two months of 2009
Steamship Authority traffic dropped across the board through February 28, compared to the first two months of 2008.
On the Martha's Vineyard route, passenger trips were off 5.9 percent; auto traffic was down 5.3 percent; and trucks dropped by 8.4 percent.
On the Hyannis to Nantucket route, total passenger traffic was down 5.3 percent; total auto traffic, including reduced rate excursions was down 4.6 percent; and truck traffic was off by 17.7 percent.
Total overall SSA traffic is down 11.3 percent to date in 2009.