SSA approves fast ferry Saturday cruise requests

In the first quarter of the year, passenger and vehicle traffic was up slightly on the Vineyard route and down slightly on the Nantucket route, Steamship Authority (SSA) management reported to boatline members Tuesday. The members held their June monthly meeting in the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven.

Business concluded in front of a spare group that included only one Island elected official, Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal, and included a preview of draft 2011 winter and spring operating schedules. The members also agreed to allow fast ferry company Seastreak to use the Oak Bluffs terminal to provide daytime sightseeing cruises, and completed a performance evaluation of general manager Wayne Lamson in glowing terms.

Mr. Lamson described the proposed schedule as not significantly different from the one now in place. According to a management report, the winter schedule would start four days later, on January 3, and run one day longer than in 2010. The Island Home would continue to be berthed overnight on Fridays and Saturdays at the Vineyard, eliminating the 6 am trip from Woods Hole on Saturdays and Sundays and the 9:30 pm trip from Vineyard Haven on Fridays and Saturdays.

The spring schedule would start one day later and run four days longer than in 2010. During discussion, Vineyard SSA member Marc Hanover said he had fielded complaints that the Island Home was taken out of service last fall for regular maintenance too soon, resulting in a loss of capacity and frustrated travelers. Management agreed to look at the issue.

Seastreak currently provides daily fast ferry service between New Bedford and the Vineyard, and last year introduced weekend service between Manhattan and Oak Bluffs. On Tuesday, Seastreak representatives asked the members to allow the private company to use the Oak Bluffs terminal to run the 400-passenger New York ferry, which now sits idle on Saturday, for seal watch tours to Wasque shoals and an evening sunset cruise along the north shore to Gay Head. Satisfied that the SSA would receive a fee for every passenger carried under the boatline’s existing licensing agreement, the members approved the request.

Under new business, George Balco, Tisbury port council member, reported that a long-discussed bus shelter would soon be placed at the Vineyard Haven terminal traffic circle. Referring to the 50-cents per head embarkation fee legislatively imposed on passengers for the purpose of lessening the impacts of ferry service on port communities, Mr. Balco, a former member of the town finance committee, said, “It is one of the few examples of embarkation fee money actually being spent appropriately.”

The meeting ended with a public discussion of Mr. Lamson’s performance evaluation.

Mr. Lamson began as a ticket taker more than 40 years ago, became treasurer, and served five stints as interim general manager during some of the boatline’s most tumultuous periods. In December 2004, the board named him general manager.

On Tuesday, the members praised his calm, steady leadership. Their only request was that Mr. Lamson, who now rotates responsibilities among his department heads when he is absent, put in place a succession plan.

But no one was anxious to see Mr. Lamson leave any time soon. “He does an excellent job as general manager, and I hope he is going to be with us a long time still,” Bob L. O’Brien, the Barnstable member and the senior SSA member, said.

Robert Marshall of Falmouth noted that Mr. Lamson had taken the SSA off the front page and gotten down to business. Nantucket member Flint Ranney, ever-ready with a humorous quip, said. “It’s not even in the interior pages of the Nantucket papers.”

Characteristically self-effacing, Mr. Lamson gave credit to his co-workers. “A lot of these things could not have been done without the assistance of senior staff and the employees,” Mr. Lamson said. “I appreciate all your comments and suggestions.”