SSA takes up fare hikes and schedule changes
The Steamship Authority (SSA) board will hold its October monthly business meeting in Tisbury next week, with plenty to talk about of interest to Islanders.
The board members are scheduled to vote on a 2006 operating budget that includes across-the-board rate hikes for Vineyard travelers and to set the 2006 summer and fall schedules when they meet at 9:30 am Thursday at the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven.
At the September monthly meeting, held in Hyannis, SSA management asked boatline members to hike fares to cover an estimated $4 million revenue shortfall in next year's $72.1 million operating budget and shift some scheduled boats to Oak Bluffs to alleviate traffic congestion complaints in Tisbury.
Tomorrow, the board members and management are scheduled to meet for a working session to go over the budget in detail, so they will be well prepared at next week's meeting.
On Tuesday, SSA general manager Wayne Lamson, said he would not be proposing any significant changes to the recommendations that management presented to the board members last month. Mr. Lamson said that could change following tomorrow's work session.
Yesterday, Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, Vineyard member and SSA board chairman, said that with the budget and schedules on the agenda he anticipates a busy meeting.
Mr. Hanover said he is still considering all options with regards to the rate hikes and schedules. Asked if he expected to see any changes in the proposed rate hikes, said he would know more after tomorrow's work session. "We know what we need and certainly the rate payers are my last choice," he said.
Mr. Hanover was recently the target of some sharp criticism by Tisbury selectmen and members of the Tisbury Business Association (TBA) over his support for a boatline plan to shift some boats to Oak Bluffs.
Mr. Hanover said he is scheduled to meet with the TBA on Tuesday, and he expects the proposed schedule changes will be the focus of discussion. "I will be there to listen and plan to suggest that the business people get more involved in the process," he said.
On Friday Mr. Lamson met with town officials to hear their scheduling concerns and discuss ways the boatline and town could work together to make changes in the terminal area to speed the flow of traffic. Mr. Lamson repeated his view that the changes would help reduce congestion in Tisbury by spreading out arrivals and departures from the main Island port.
Mr. Lamson said that with no change, a boat would arrive in Vineyard Haven at 8:15 pm followed by another 15 minutes later at 8:30 pm.
The corresponding departures would be at 8:30 pm and 8:45 pm.
"So you have all these people that are trying to either get to the terminal or from the terminal in a short period of time," said Mr. Lamson. "And it makes sense to us to try to move that if we can."
The schedule change is also designed to avoid having the last boat to leave Oak Bluffs be a freight boat because of the limited passenger capacity.
Fare hikes mostly for Vineyarders
The fare increases, which, based on the cost of service, would fall most heavily on the Vineyard side of the ledger — to the tune of $3,185,000 of the $4 million needed — come against the backdrop of a dramatic hike in the boatline's cost of fuel, rising insurance rates, and declining ridership on SSA boats.
If approved, the cost of a one-way adult passenger ticket would rise from $5.50 to $6. The legislatively imposed ferry embarkation fee would add an additional 50 cents, bringing the cost of a round-trip ticket to $13.
The embarkation fee is paid to the town where the trip originates and is designed to generate funds for port communities to use to mitigate the impacts of ferry service. Islanders are exempt from the fee if they buy tickets by the discount book, use excursion fares, or travel with sports teams.
One-way auto rates would increase by $6 across the board — from $57 to $63 in season, and $35 to $39 off season, for vehicles under 17 feet; rates for vehicles over that length would rise from $67 to $73 (in season), and $45 to $49 (off season).
The $126 it will cost visitors to bring a vehicle under 17 feet to and from the Vineyard in season would still be a bargain compared to Nantucket where the cost would rise to $360.
Discounted round-trip auto excursion rates for Island residents would jump by $5. Off-Island shopping trips would cost $44 off season and $70 in season, for vehicles less than 17 feet, and $64 and $90 for those over that length.
Under the schedule proposal favored by Mr. Hanover, between May 17 and October 10 the 11 am, 6:30 pm, and 7:30 pm boats from Woods Hole would arrive in Oak Bluffs, in addition to the already scheduled boats to Oak Bluffs. Additional departures from Oak Bluffs would be the 12:15 pm, 7:30 pm, and 8:30 pm boats.
The proposed schedule includes the option to run an unscheduled 10 pm freight boat from Woods Hole and an 11 pm freight vessel from Vineyard Haven on reservation only days when needed.
The 9:30 pm boat from Woods Hole would be moved back to 9:45 pm to accommodate passengers arriving on the Peter Pan/Bonanza bus line. That boat would run daily during the off-season instead of only on weekends and holidays.
The 10:30 pm boat from Woods Hole would also operate daily between June 19 and Sept. 10.
Management has also proposed the elimination of the hazardous designation for freight vessels on weekends and holidays, which would free up reservation space.
In addition to schedules and rates, the board will be asked to consider several changes affecting reservation policies, including adding the long Columbus Day weekend to the list of reservation-only weekends.
Mr. Lamson said that Columbus Day is one of the boatline's busiest weekends and generates high demand for advance reservations. With most of the trips sold out this past weekend and little capability to add extra trips to transport standbys, he said the question becomes whether the public is better served by booking the space and only retaining preferred space.
Another change is designed to free up reserved truck space earlier so that it might be available for vehicles. If approved, reserved truck space would be released 30 days prior to the held date on the large boats and 14 days prior to the held date on freight boats.