SSA intros customer friendly web site
Customer service was the main theme at the April meeting of the Steamship Authority (SSA) members Tuesday in New Bedford. Tangible examples included a new user-friendly web site, wireless Internet service available at terminals, and a change in the same-day reservation policy.
The board also made it clear that it expects satisfaction when the SSA is the customer. With the support of the board, Robert Marshall, Falmouth SSA member and chairman, asked management to find out why a Rhode Island shipyard failed to properly align engine shafts in the Flying Cloud fast ferry, following the installation of two new engines, mistakes that resulted in a two-week delay and lost passenger revenue.
Mayor Scott W. Lang welcomed the SSA members to New Bedford. Photo by Nelson Sigelman
This week's SSA meeting was the first attended by New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang, who was elected in November. In a brief appearance, Mr. Lang, a political newcomer who beat four-term incumbent Frederick Kalisz, demonstrated one of the most important qualities of successful politicians - a perfect sense of timing.
The sparsely attended meeting, held on the third floor of New Bedford City Hall, included an update by Carl Walker, SSA director of engineering, on the construction progress of the boatline's new ferry, the Island Home.
"The project is going very well," said Mr. Walker, who described some of the new features. The new double-ended ferry, which is scheduled to replace the Islander by the end of the year, will feature an inflatable slide on each side of the vessel similar to the escape systems used on airlines. Mr. Walker said the slide, which automatically deploys to waiting life rafts, is designed to allow 600 people to escape in five minutes.
There will be no support columns on the freight deck, a welcome relief for vehicle drivers and larger windows on the passenger deck. "It will be a pleasant environment," he said.
The news was not so good regarding the Flying Cloud, the mechanically cursed fast ferry that serves the Hyannis-Nantucket route and is due to be replaced next year. After experiencing engine vibration during sea trials following the installation of two new engines by Senesco Marine Shipyard in North Kingston, R.I., the SSA discovered that the engine shafts were out of alignment.
The opening page of the SSA's new website.
Mr. Walker said that the SSA had been satisfied with the shipyard in the past, but in this case the shipyard failed to perform adequately. So much so that during repairs in the SSA's Fairhaven shipyard, mechanics from Senesco assisting the boatline were asked to leave after they broke an important piece of equipment, and Mr. Walker determined that "their assistance was detrimental to the project."
Mr. Marshall asked management to continue to investigate the situation and put together a schedule of costs. "This is just an outrageous situation," he said.
There was little discussion regarding a management proposal to allow customers to make or change a reservation on the day of sailing. Flint Ranney, Nantucket SSA member, expressed some concern that a customer might make a reservation and jump ahead of a vehicle driver already waiting in standby who had been assured by the terminal agent of passage.
Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said that management shared that concern. As a solution, the terminal manager will be able to input standby vehicles into the computer system, essentially blocking out spaces. "If there are no standbys, we want to be able to use that space," said Mr. Lamson.
The board approved the change unanimously.
Introducing changes made to the SSA web site (www.SteamshipAuthority.com), Mr. Lamson said they began with a three-page letter from Marc Snider, owner of the Winnetu Inn in Katama, to Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, describing how the site could be made user-friendly.
That letter led to a months-long collaboration between Mr. Snider, Mr. Lamson, Gina Barboza, reservations and community relations manager, and Mary Claffey, director of information technologies. The result was a new web site designed with the new SSA customer in mind, as opposed to the frequent traveler who already is familiar with the ins and outs of boatline travel.
New features include six buttons that direct customers to the most frequently requested information; fewer screens; transportation links, space availability and information, including up-to-the-hour standby numbers; and bus schedules timed to boat departures.
Ms. Claffey said all of the terminals except Oak Bluffs now feature wireless Internet access, a feature the boatline is working to provide on its passenger vessels. The board expressed its appreciation for all of the time and work by Ms. Claffey, Ms. Barboza, and Mr. Snider. Singling out Mr. Snider, Mr. Lamson said the boatline and its customers would benefit from his input and work for years to come.
The only bug in the otherwise smooth presentation arose when David Oliveira, New Bedford SSA member, said he was not aware that the new web site provided no information about the New Bedford fast ferry connection with Martha's Vineyard, serviced by the New England Fast Ferry Company.
With a faint whiff of the discord that once marked New Bedford's relationship with the SSA beginning to seep through the room, Mayor Lang walked into the meeting room and welcomed the SSA. In brief remarks, he said he wanted to continue to enhance the city's relationship with the boatline.
Mr. Oliviera told the mayor he had arrived at an opportune time. He said some see the fast ferry as competition for passengers, and New Bedford was no longer listed as an option on the web site.
In an example of the working relationship that has developed among the board members, the issue was quickly dispensed with, without any of the rancor that once marked discussions about New Bedford.
Mr. Marshall said the fast ferry service was intended to help relieve vehicle traffic, and he agreed with Mr. Oliviera that the information should be listed. Mr. Ranney agreed that a link and schedule should be provided.
Mr. Hanover said he did not agree that the fast ferry company, which pays a per-passenger licensing fee to the SSA, is non-competitive, but he noted that it provided the only New Bedford service at this time. The board agreed unanimously to add the New Bedford fast ferry link and schedules.
In his departing remarks, Mayor Lang smiled and said, "When I picked up the paper left for me by the previous administration, I read how difficult you all were. I can't believe that."