SSA discusses operating schedule, budget blueprints

File photo by Susan Safford

The Steamship Authority (SSA) met on Nantucket Tuesday and lay the groundwork for future votes on next year’s operating schedules and the 2013 operating budget.

Also Tuesday, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, told the board members the boatline would delay the launch of its new website until the fall, according to a management summary of the meeting provided to The Times.

Mr. Lamson had told the board members he would not authorize the launching of the website until he “was convinced that it is functioning correctly in all material respects.” On Tuesday, Mr. Lamson told the board that too many issues remained for the website to be launched this summer. Most of the issues relate to a customer’s ability to make vehicle reservations.

“While this delay is unfortunate, we concluded that it is necessary to make certain that everything is working the way it should be when the website is launched,” Mr. Lamson said in his management report.

In other business, management presented the preliminary draft of the proposed 2013 winter and spring vessel operating schedules for discussion purposes. A vote is not expected until the July meeting.

The proposed schedules are much the same except that the winter schedule starts three days earlier and ends eight days earlier than in 2012 (beginning on January 1, 2013 and ending on April 9, 2013), and, as a result, the spring schedule starts eight days earlier than in 2012 (on April 10, 2013).

The proposed spring schedule also ends five days earlier than in 2012 (on May 15, 2013), which means that the summer schedule will similarly start five days earlier.

The most significant proposed change in next year’s spring schedule is that the freight boat on the Martha’s Vineyard route will operate on an earlier daily schedule, similar to the current summer schedule. “This new freight boat schedule is working well and has allowed us to move more trips into the earlier part of the morning, which is when many freight shippers and Island residents want to travel,” Mr. Lamson said.

The SSA members approved the boatline’s proposed 2013 Budget Policy Statement that sets forth the guidelines used in the preparation of the 2013 operating budget. Factors the boatline management will take into account include significant terminal repairs and maintenance that will need to be accomplished; drydock schedules; expected training expenses; and health care and insurance costs.

Mr. Lamson said, “As usual, the most difficult expense to estimate for next year will be the cost of fuel oil.”

Currently, the barrel price for crude oil is trading in the $80-$90 range, while a year ago it was trading in the $90-$100 range and last month it was trading in the $105-$110 range.

The budgeted cost of vessel fuel oil in 2013 will be based on the price forecast plus the cost of the hedging program, which protects the boatline from dramatic price increases. “In addition, we will continue to make fuel and energy conservation a priority in both land and sea operations,” Mr. Lamson said. “Towards that end, schedule modifications and trip consolidations will continue to be made when practical.”

A board vote on the budget is expected in October.

Bagels and beer

In another piece of news, passengers will no longer have to wait until noon or until the vessel departs the dock to order beer or wine.

Mr. Lamson told The Times that the SSA has changed its policy and will begin serving beer and wine beginning at 8 am (11 am on Sunday).

“I wrote a letter to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission asking for permission to serve at the dock due to the lines that start to form at the lunch counters, especially on the relatively short trip on the Vineyard route,” Mr. Lamson said in an email to The Times.

The request was immediately granted, he said.