SSA report highlights cost of service
A report presented at the Steamship Authority's (SSA) monthly meeting held on Nantucket Tuesday morning highlighted one important fact of Island life. The full fare paid by Island visitors to transport a vehicle subsidizes the discounted excursion tickets available only to year-round residents.
Bob Davis, SSA treasurer, presented the information on rates to the SSA members at their regular monthly meeting as part of a regular analysis of the effectiveness of the SSA's rate structure.
The board also heard an update on several capital projects, including the Island Home ferry, and discussed ways the boatline could improve procedures in the aftermath of breakdowns on the weekend of August 5 that left hundreds of vehicle owners stranded.
Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, told The Times yesterday that the Nantucket meeting provided another example of how well SSA management is responding to issues and working to improve customer service.
"We ran 343 less trips last year and carried 5,000 more cars, and that is due to the efficiencies of the freight boats" said Mr. Hanover. "And we have saved $140,000 in fuel by slowing the boats down a little bit. It is just showing signs of a well-run company that is trying to get the best value for our money."
According to a report of the meeting provided by Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, the boatline realized a six-percent decrease in fuel consumption by slowing vessels down during the first six months of 2006.
The widening of the freight boat decks on the Katama and Gay Head also allowed the boats to carry more vehicles on fewer trips. Fewer trips resulted in further savings.
Every dollar saved reduces pressure to hike the passenger, vehicle, and truck fares that pay for the cost of service along each respective route. Mr. Hanover said that the report by Mr. Davis highlighted the importance Island visitors play in the Vineyard economy and the extent to which they subsidize Islanders' travel costs.
According to Mr. Davis, in 2005 vehicle owners purchasing full fare tickets on the Vineyard route covered 123 percent of what it cost to transport them; excursion fares covered only 30.5-percent of the allocated cost of service; and trucks traveling on excursion fares covered 43.9-oercent of their allocated cost of service.
On Nantucket, standard fares covered 159.2 percent of their cost of vehicle service while trucks covered only 78 percent. Excursion fares covered 38.4 percent and excursion truck fares covered 48.2 percent of their allocated cost of service.
With excursion travel accounting for more than 40-percent of SSA volume on the Vineyard route the numbers point out how dependent Islanders are on tourist traffic to keep fares from rising. Mr. Hanover said, "The message is that we need to be nice to the people who are paying the full fare because they are paying for us to have the excursion fare."
Mr. Hanover said that while he constantly hears complaints from people who think the fares are too high, the reality is that Vineyarders are only paying a portion of what it costs the SSA to carry their vehicle.
SSA management is doing much to create a better-run company and eliminate waste. Customer service is also a priority, Mr. Hanover said.
Mr. Lamson reported Tuesday that the average waiting time for telephone customers calling the reservation office improved from 2:57 minutes in July 2005 to 2:14 minutes in July 2006. In particular, he reported, the average wait time for Nantucket and fast ferry customers improved from 4:01 minutes in July 2005 to around 2:20 minutes in July 2006.
Mr. Hanover said management also admitted it could have done a better job of keeping customers informed when two boats broke down on Saturday, August 5, leaving a backlog of cars and stranding some people overnight.
Mr. Hanover said that the likelihood of a similar event occurring, two boats breaking down on the same weekend night, is small but that the SSA needs to be prepared and management understands that. He said that based on reports it appeared that people on the Woods Hole side were kept better informed than those on the Vineyard.
Mr. Hanover gave high marks to management for responding quickly, but he said the SSA needs to have a better process in place for letting people know what is going on.
"We are not in the business to make our customers angry," said Mr. Hanover. "Islanders understand these things happen but somebody from New Jersey doesn't grasp it. And while it is probably a hundred-year event we need to be prepared for everything."
With the benefit of hindsight, management is working on a plan to provide prompt information if a similar situation crops up in the future.
In other business, Mr. Hanover said that Nantucketers are "absolutely thrilled" to have the steam whistle formerly on the Nobska on the Eagle. There is discussion about placing steam whistles on other vessels, he said.
In his report Mr. Lamson also reported that the Island Home construction remains on schedule, and the boat is expected in Fairhaven on Nov. 29. Construction of the Iyanough fast ferry is somewhat ahead of schedule. Boston Culinary Group has provided the SSA with a proposal to sell SSA merchandise on the boats and at the terminals. The bid opening date for the sale of the Flying Cloud to the highest bidder over $5 million is Sept. 13.