SSA numbers lag; NYC route trial
Steamship Authority (SSA) members approved hikes in permit parking rates and granted permission for the New England Fast Ferry Company to use the Oak Bluffs terminal for a trial New York City fast ferry run over the July Fourth weekend.
Tuesday, dank and rainy, was an appropriate backdrop for the meeting and for the presentation from boatline treasurer Bob Davis of dismal boatline traffic numbers.
Mr. Davis told the members that year to date, passenger traffic is down 7.8 percent. For the month of March, SSA passenger traffic fell 11.2 percent, or 13,602 passengers, versus the previous year. He said it was the poorest March passenger traffic performance since 1995. Passenger traffic on the Vineyard route was down 11.4 percent.
Mr. Davis said that while traffic levels have been down "thus far this year, from a financial standpoint the Steamship Authority is just slightly better than budget through March as vessel fuel oil costs are significantly below our budget estimates thus far." The SSA also raised some fares in mid-2008.
Mr. Davis said the net operating loss for the year through March is expected to be $7.2 million or $400,000 less than expected.
Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, told The Martha's Vineyard Times that he suspects the drop in winter traffic has much to do with a decrease in the number of construction workers traveling between the mainland and islands. "A lot of that has dried up," he said.
Mr. Lamson said advance reservations continue to lag, off a little more than 11 percent, compared with the volume the SSA had experienced by this time last year. He said activity is picking up slowly. That said, more than 100,000 reservations have been made for the summer on the Vineyard and Nantucket routes.
In a telephone conversation following Tuesday's meeting, Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, the Vineyard's appointed SSA member, said he is concerned about the drop-off in traffic. "The financial picture is really bleak," said Mr. Hanover.
Mr. Hanover added that to date, none of the major summer weekends are sold out, according to management. "It's going to be an interesting summer," Mr. Hanover added. He expects to see many last-minute reservations and a very weather-dependent season.
Mr. Hanover said the boatline continues to look for cost savings. He said the decisions to eliminate scheduled freight boat trips from the spring schedule, to cut down on excess capacity, and to put the boats on line as needed has resulted in savings.
Mr. Hanover said that strategy worked well this past weekend. Aware of heavy demand, the boatline added a freight boat on Friday and used the Island Home lift decks. "If we can react quickly, then I think we are going to be fine," he said.