The Steamship Authority members Tuesday agreed to a management recommendation and hiked passenger fares, auto excursion fares, and Falmouth parking rates in order to close a $1,900,000 hole in the 2015 operating budget. Get used to it, because without some dramatic change in the boatline’s business model, increased costs can be expected to press on rates in the future.
There is a new Woods Hole terminal to pay for, estimated to cost between $40 and $60 million, and a new passenger/vehicle vessel, estimated cost $43 million. Add to that increases in employee compensation and you get the picture.
The SSA benefits from a business model that any private enterprise would envy. Keep doing what you are doing and when you run short charge your customers, who have no choice but to rely on your services, more for your services. And if there is an abundance of customers, well, they can always wait.
On October 14, the SSA reverted to its fall schedule. Only no one told the scores of people who still wanted to come and go that their lives needed to revert to a fall schedule. As a result, at the Vineyard Haven terminal several days last week it looked more like a day in August than October, as lines of drivers in vehicles waited in standby for a chance to depart.
Presumably, the Authority can use its reservation system to gauge demand in advance and recognize the need to add additional capacity. More nimbleness is needed to meet the demand.
Tuesday, Wayne Lamson, the SSA’s genial general manager, said he would examine the schedule to see how the problem might be addressed. Islanders would welcome some relief.
Of course, Islanders want to have their cake and eat it too. They complain about traffic and want the SSA to limit (other people’s) cars — recall Tisbury pressing the SSA to limit the use of the Island Home’s lift decks — but want to be able to come and go when they want to come and go.
What is not clear is what if anything the SSA board intends to do to address the future, other than continue on the same course of rate hikes and more congestion at Five Corners. The more short-sighted among us will call for the burden of paying for SSA service to fall ever more heavily on seasonal visitors. But there is a breaking point, even for the golden geese, who may decide to fly elsewhere in the summer.
Tuesday, Island SSA member Marc Hanover expressed concern about budget shortfalls in the following years and what could be done to break the cycle of rate hikes, but he offered no guidance. It is time for the board to undertake some strategic planning and think big and think creatively.
In an OpEd published October 16, 2013, “Move the Steamship auto and traffic,” former Island SSA member J.B. Riggs Parker offered one approach. “Move the big boat car and truck traffic down Beach Road beyond the R. M. Packer Company complex so that cars and trucks would disembark in two possible directions — to Oak Bluffs or back to Tisbury. This would ameliorate the jam-up at Five Corners and facilitate travel for those heading to Oak Bluffs,” he said.
Mr. Parker recommended the existing SSA terminal in Tisbury be used to accommodate pure passenger vessels in a reconfigured fleet that would cease to rely on “birthday cake” giants like the Island Home. It is a fresh, though not new, concept.
What we have not heard is any discussion of any concepts, old or new, by the SSA members, who are responsible for setting the boatline’s future course. The time is right for a fresh look.
There are professional organizations that could examine the SSA’s business and operating models, analyze boatline strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations for the future that could provide a set of new compass points. Now is the time to look for new strategies.
Cheers for the Derby
The 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby concluded Sunday with a dramatic and exciting awards ceremony under the big top at the Farm Neck Golf Club. It is no small accomplishment to keep any enterprise in business for almost seven decades.
Over the past five weeks, fresh fish was distributed to Island elderly — much of that bounty was caught by elder fishermen — prizes were distributed, and fishermen or all ages and backgrounds had a good time. And once again, at graduation time this spring the Derby will award four four-year scholarships to regional high school graduates. Not bad for a fishing tournament.
Registrations in the five-week fishing marathon set a new record of 3,282. Not all those fishermen walked into the weigh station, or even caught fish, but the Derby is about so much more than the many prizes distributed in a variety of categories. At its best it celebrates the natural bounty and beauty of the Island, the camaraderie of shared purpose and community. For fishermen and non-fishermen, the Derby is an event that has become a part of our Island culture. The all-volunteer committee that manages the whole affair is to be congratulated on a job well done.