When the Steamship Authority (SSA) was famously reorganized by the state legislature to include members from Barnstable (Hyannis) and Nantucket, the big opportunity was that the boatline might find a way to use New Bedford as a third mainland port, with some geographic advantages that might bear fruit in the 21st century. There was the possibility to divert significant passenger traffic from Woods Hole to fast passenger-only ferries from the Whaling City, thus alleviating jammed traffic on the Cape and at the bridges and, with clever pricing, discourage short-term auto traffic to the Vineyard through Woods Hole. There was the possibility of a freight terminal operation, based in New Bedford and employing fast freight ferries to serve the Vineyard and Nantucket, taking some pressure off Woods Hole and Hyannis for freight handling. Sadly, none of these opportunities, and indeed no other significant opportunities that might reveal themselves to strategic inquiry, have been exploited by the SSA since the reorganization. It's a disappointing record and one that will do nothing to make ferry travel less expensive and more efficient in the future. Nor will poster advertising on SSA vessels, which is on the boatline's agenda, as a means of avoiding or trimming future rate hikes. The guess here is that alluring as advertising income may seem, it won't stem the rate hike tide. More fundamental thinking is required.
One derivative of the restructuring got little attention during the political upheaval surrounding the legislature's action, although it promises to be relentlessly troublesome as the Steamship Authority tries to address its significant financial challenges. The old SSA included a board of financial advisors, one each from Falmouth, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The board's role was to offer comments to the SSA members and management, at first almost exclusively about boatline advertising plans but later on all phases of the SSA budgeting and planning. The new SSA, in addition to members from New Bedford and Barnstable, replaced the financial advisory board with a port council, including a member each from the seven ports the Authority serves. On the Vineyard, that means a member from Oak Bluffs and one from Tisbury/Vineyard Haven. What had been an advisory committee whose goal was to help the members make sound economic decisions for the boatline as a whole has become an amalgamation of representatives of town by town interest groups, whose objective appears to be to demand that SSA decisions be made to accommodate the parochial clamor of individual ports. So, Oak Bluffs may want this policy, but Tisbury may want that one, and the boatline member, Marc Hanover, must endure the push-pull. The result is that Mr. Hanover's position with management and his fellow members may be at times severely handicapped.
So it is with the matter of the Island Home's lift decks. The question is to sell or not to sell the space regularly, or to use the lift decks for emergencies, for instance, when a boat breaks down. But, selling the lift deck space regularly might, in some circumstances, eliminate the need for another trip on a given day, or speed the delivery of an Island resident home. Mr. Hanover may believe the lift deck capacity ought to be regularly made available to the traveling public. The Oak Bluffs port council member may agree. The Tisbury member, on the other hand, may object. What's a voting Vineyard representative to the Steamship Authority to do? What are his fellow members and management to think of Mr. Hanover's ability to resolve conflicts among his constituent communities? It's a recipe for no progress, inefficiency, and higher fares.