SSA proposes fare hikes worth $2.6 million


Steamship Authority (SSA) travelers on the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard routes can anticipate fare hikes in 2011.

Boat line management Tuesday proposed a package of rate increases designed to raise an additional $2.55 million in revenue the boat line said it needs to meet 2011 operating expenses.

The SSA divides operating expenses between the two islands based on a formula designed so that each community pays for its respective costs of service. Of the $2.55 million shortfall, the Vineyard route would be asked to make up $1,050,000 and the Nantucket route $1,500,000.

On the Vineyard side of the ledger, SSA management proposes raising the cost of a one-way adult fare from $7 to $7.50. Already-discounted passengers fares would also rise slightly. The rate for bicycles, surfboards, and windsurfers would be increased from $3 to $4.

Nantucket passengers would see increases in passenger tickets, parking rates, and vehicle rates. For example, the one-way cost to transport an automobile in the summer months would increase by $10 from $190 to $200.

The SSA members reviewed the draft budget when they met on Nantucket for their monthly business meeting. A vote on the budget, including management proposals, is not expected until the SSA members meet next on October 26.

Bob Davis, boat line treasurer, said the SSA projects operating revenues of $81,348,000 in 2011, a $476,000 increase over 2010 estimates.

However, operating expenses, mostly in connection with fuel and maintenance costs, are expected to increase by $2.4 million over estimated expenses in the current year.

“Therefore, additional revenues of $2,550,000 by means of a 3.1-percent fare increase will be needed to cover next year’s estimated cost of service and provide a sufficient net operating income of $3,444,000 to meet our debt service requirements and make the appropriate transfers to the Authority’s replacement fund,” Mr. Davis said according to a management-generated summary of the meeting.

Historically, SSA management presents its draft operating budget for the coming year to the board in September when any proposed rate hikes are introduced.

On the Vineyard route the last passenger fare increase occurred in May, 2008, Mr. Davis told The Times in response to an email.

“It was a supplemental increase because of the skyrocketing oil prices. That was a $0.50 increase on the adult rate. Prior to that it was January, 2007 when we had a similar $0.50 increase in the adult passenger rate. In May, 2008 we also implemented a $2.50 increase on the standard one-way autos and $5 on the excursion autos, which of course is a round trip.”

Rate breakdown

According to a management summary of the projected rate increases on the Vineyard route, the SSA expects to generate an additional $1 million in passenger revenue, $25,000 in auto revenue and $25,000 in bicycle revenue.

The increase in passenger fares would range from 0.20 cents for a one-way group rate child ticket ($2.80 to $3) and 0.50 cents for a one-way adult passenger ticket ($7 to $7.50). The cost of a 46-ride monthly commuter book would increase from $129 to $140.

There would also be a corresponding $2 increase in the discounted excursion rate. For example, the in-season round trip automobile fare would increase from $88 to $90. The off-season rate would increase from $57 to $59.

Budget pressures

In his report to the board Tuesday, Mr. Davis said maintenance is expected to increase by $326,000. The Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Eagle, Katama and Gay Head are all scheduled to enter dry dock for repairs sometime in 2011.

The cost of fuel oil is estimated to be $7,912,000, approximately 10-percent of the budget and a 9.9-percent increase over estimated costs in this year. That number assumes the delivered price would remain between $2.77 and $2.92 per gallon.

Mr. Davis said projected operating revenues for 2011 are generally based on actual traffic statistics for the 12-month period ending July 31, 2010.

Those numbers show that for the purposes of the 2011 budget, the SSA: expects to carry 2,732,729 passengers, 438,418 autos and 156,514 trucks; park 162,999 vehicles; complete 21,423 trips, fewer than were actually operated in 2009; and travel 326,176 miles.

SSA 2011 operating expenses include: operation of vessels, $23,324,700; operation of terminals, $9,106,239; maintenance expenses, $9,507,798; general expense which includes pension and relief, $18,673,650; insurance, $3,290,770; and reservation and traffic expenses, $2,320,463.

In other business

The board also took up the proposed 2011 summer and fall operating schedules. Management has recommended the Sankaty replace the Governor during the height of the summer and that it berth overnight in Vineyard Haven instead of Woods Hole.

The change would eliminate the last daily 10:50 pm freight trip from Vineyard Haven but would add a daily 6:15 am freight trip. “This would allow more trucks to leave the Island earlier in the morning,” according to a management summary, “thereby freeing up space on other morning off-Island trips.”

The SSA also expects to have a customer feedback form available on the boat line website by the end of this month. Management said comments would be forwarded to the appropriate department for a response. “We also plan to prepare a summary of the comments we receive each month, which should be helpful in identifying where we need to focus our efforts to improve our customers’ overall experience with our service,” the management report said.