SSA must provide 21st century service


To the Editor:

What will our recent experience with fast ferry passenger shuttle service between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven bring to the future?

The string of breakdowns of the traditional car/passenger ferries in March and the decision to supply turnaround fast ferry service to and from the Vineyard gave ferry users — Islanders, workers, commuters to and from the mainland, visitors — a taste of the possible. Passengers boarded the fast ferry without delay, and arrived at their destination in 20 minutes.

Last Monday, the Steamship Authority (SSA) met in Vineyard Haven. Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg noted its popularity, and called for future fast ferry service. SSA management was noncommittal.

Will SSA management and the authority members who set policy recognize the possible? Will Vineyard-bound travelers in countless cars, who have always boarded the big boats because that was the best option, decide it is preferable to leave their vehicles behind, reducing traffic on the Island? Will visitors discover the excellent service provided by the VTA? Will Falmouth provide parking options in order to accommodate those who opt to leave their vehicles behind, thus reducing Woods Hole traffic? Will the SSA incorporate more fast ferries into its future service model, instead of relying on the gargantuan barges they now use for the benign 14-mile crossing to the Island?

I fear the answer is that no change will occur without demand by the users: us. Islanders are the primary users. The SSA exists for us. Unless we demand change, management will coast along in the old groove — build big boats and raise fares to pay for them. It must want to change and think creatively about the future. In short, Team SSA, the Island, and mainland communities must think change together.

Change is never easy, and difficult to manage from afar. But change must come. The Island continues to subdivide its land. New house lots mean more cars, more building, more people, more demand for convenient access to the island.

Do we (the SSA) build more wedding-cake barges? Or do we negotiate attractive parking options, build sleek, fast passenger ferries for quarter-hour transits, and thus supply what is in current demand — 21st century service to the Island?

J.B. Riggs Parker

The writer is a former member of the Steamship Authority. –Ed.