New SSA system knots traffic
Traffic backed up along State Road and Beach Road due to a clot of Steamship Authority bound traffic in the Five Corners intersection in Vineyard Haven is an accepted fact of summer life. Islanders are less understanding when the backups occur during the off-season, however.
On Monday morning an Island communications center dispatcher notified Vineyard Haven police that traffic was backed up well along the roads leading into Five Corners as a result of a snarl of vehicles entering the Vineyard Haven SSA terminal.
Cars and a tractor-trailer truck in line for the 9:30 am ferry snaked back from the SSA check-in booth and along Water Street. At the same time, drivers exited the Stop and Shop parking lot and attempted to enter the line of cars, blocking cars traveling in the other direction.
Vehicles waited to enter the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority terminal Monday morning prior to the departure of the 9:30 am ferry. Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Several Island travelers told of similar backups. Tom Wetherall, a West Tisbury contractor, told The Times that when he arrived at 5:30 am Monday morning for a 6 am boat, a time of day not known for Five Corners congestion, traffic was already backed up past the Black Dog Bakery.
Mr. Wetherall said, "I can't imagine what's going to happen come June."
The backups are related to the Steamship Authority's transition to a paper-less system. The change, which relies on issuing boarding passes at the parking lot booth, has not been without some speed bumps.
Mark Rozum, SSA terminals director, said he and terminal employees are working hard to address any problems. Mr. Rozum said that traffic flow management problems since resolved were responsible for the slow processing of vehicles checking in on Monday.
Under the old check-in system, an attendant asked the driver his or her name and matched it against a master list. The driver then proceeded to the staging area. If he or she did not have a ticket, the driver needed to go into the terminal and wait in line until a ticket agent printed one out.
Mr. Rozum explained that under the new system, a vehicle driver who makes a reservation is issued a booking number. When a vehicle driver arrives at the check-in booth the attendant looks up the reservation using the booking number or the person's name and prints out a boarding pass that is then handed to the driver.
During peak travel periods, he said, there should be enough people on duty to handle the volume before there is a backup. In that case a driver checks in at the booth and he or she is directed to park in the staging area where another SSA attendant using a wireless printer issues a boarding pass.
Ultimately, the new system is intended to speed up the boarding process, said Mr. Rozum. The SSA no longer needs to mail tickets, cutting costs, and in most cases drivers no longer need to go into the terminal to pick up a ticket.
Mr. Rozum said any change from the way things were done in the past to a new system includes a learning curve. "It's been an ongoing process," he said.
Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, Vineyard SSA board member, said that the curve needs to get steeper. Mr. Hanover said that backups as a result of a failure to process vehicles entering the lot in a speedy manner are "totally unacceptable."
The change was first described at the 2006 December board meeting. SSA management said the change would save on postage and office expenses and make better use of modern information technology.
At the time the members expressed some concern for people who do not a have access to a computer or would be unable to print out confirmation numbers. SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said the SSA would continue to mail reservation and change notice confirmations to those who request it.
The move was seen as a sign of continuing changes designed to make the boatline more efficient and customer-friendly. The airlines use a similar paper-less system.