SSA passengers are polled on ferry, Island experience
An unscientific Steamship Authority (SSA) survey finds boatline passengers mostly satisfied with their travel experience, though there is some room for improvement.
The aim of the survey, according to the SSA, was to identify strengths and weaknesses from the customer's point of view, and to target issues for resolution. The SSA conducted the summer survey in conjunction with the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, seeking customer comment on reservations, parking, staff, and the overall Island experience.
Some survey respondents saw a need for improvement in customer service, parking lot issues, the reservation process, and the condition of bathrooms.
Passengers had a positive reaction to seating, organization, and cleanliness, as well as comfort factors such as air conditioning, and the smoothness of the voyage.
They also say they like the variety of foods and drink offered on board, but they're unhappy with food prices.
SSA Vineyard member Marc Hanover was instrumental in organizing the survey. He was also one of the volunteers who surveyed passengers. While characterizing survey results as very positive, he said he was disheartened by comments about passenger interaction with SSA staff.
Summarizing some of the comments he received while administering the survey, Mr. Hanover said, "I heard from people 'they (staff) are the first people we see and the last people we see on our trip to the Vineyard. I just wish they could have been more helpful.' It was a common complaint."
Overall, those who were surveyed rated their ferry experience 4.6 on a scale of 5. The average rating of the reservation system was 3.5.
The survey was conducted from July 12 to August 23. Volunteers asked questions of passengers aboard two vessels, the Island Home and the Martha's Vineyard. A total of 615 surveys were collected, with volunteers covering various time periods, in an effort to collect a random sampling of passengers.
The survey grew out of an attempt to reinstitute an ambassador program, similar to one that was once operated on the ferries, and like those now often seen at ski areas, theme parks, and resorts. The program was intended to post volunteers on board the ferries to answer questions and provide information to visitors, in addition to taking surveys.
According to Mr. Hanover, the ambassador program was called off just before it was due to be launched, because of objection from SSA union workers, who contended that some of the duties planned for ambassadors were the job of boat pursers. Ironically, one of the comments released in the summary of results, under the heading of "Improvements to resolve," was "boat pursers - need to be more engaged with passengers."
In addition to questions about the ferry service, passengers arriving on the Island were asked a series of questions about their stay.
"We wanted to get a random pulse check of visitors to the Island," said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber's goal was to discover where and how long people are staying, what they are coming to see, and whether Island businesses were meeting their expectations.
Of the 296 people surveyed while traveling from Woods Hole to the Vineyard, 43 percent brought automobiles.
"I take from that," said Ms. Gardella, "we need to make sure here at the Chamber that we're doing a good job informing people of the many options available to them, in addition to bringing their car."
Half of those surveyed were return visitors, defined as someone who had been to the Island sometime in the previous year. The survey showed 70 percent stayed at home the night before their trip, indicating that most ferry passengers live within a day's drive.
"One of the reasons we did this was to find out where to spend our advertising, find out where our market is," said Mr. Hanover. "Nobody ever asked that before."
House rentals were the largest category of accommodations for visitors, at 30 percent. Next was friends and family, 27 percent, followed by second homes, 20 percent, and Island hotels or inns, also 20 percent.
Most ferry passengers planned an extended stay on the Vineyard. Only 18 percent were classified as day-trippers.
The survey shows 35 percent planned to stay a full week, 22 percent planned to stay 2-3 nights, and 20 percent planned to stay 4-5 nights.
"I think the length of stay was very interesting," said Ms. Gardella. "The highest amount was one week. Vacation on the Vineyard has evolved. At some point, that number might have been high in the two-week or month stay." Ms. Gardella cautioned that many of the surveys were taken on weekends, so the results may be more reflective of short-term visitors.
"We want to refine our questions for next year," said Ms. Gardella. "I'm pleased that we were able to get it off the ground, but I do think it has so much more potential. We really are committed to doing this every year."