Updated 5 pm
Washington State runs the largest ferry operation in the country, with four times as many terminals, over three times as many routes, and more than twice as many ferries as the Steamship Authority.
At 273 feet, 8 inches, Washington State Ferries’ smallest ferry class, the Kwa-di Tabil class, is 17 feet, four inches longer than the SSA’s largest vessel, the MV Island Home. Two end-to-end MV Martha’s Vineyards (230 feet) would equal Washington State Ferries’ largest class of vessel, Jumbo Mark II, of which there are three.
The sheer size of the vessels and volume of traffic dwarfs the SSA, but so far in 2018, the Martha’s Vineyard ferry service is well ahead of Washington State when it comes to cancellations due to breakdowns.
According to a recent report from Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis, of 5,632 scheduled trips from January to May, Steamship Authority vessels suffered 551 (two of them were on the Nantucket-based MV Gay Head) mechanical cancellations (9.78 percent of trips). For the first quarter of 2018 (January to March, the months available at this point), Washington State Ferries cancelled 116 times for mechanical problems, out of 38,648 trips (0.30 percent), according to Washington State Ferries spokesman Justin Fujioka.
In 2017, out of 22,843 trips, the Steamship Authority suffered 372 mechanical cancellations (1.62 percent). Washington State Ferries sailed 162,736 times and suffered 572 mechanical cancellations (0.35 percent).
In 2016, the numbers were closer for each. Of 22,703 trips, SSA suffered 52 mechanical cancellations (0.229 percent). Washington State Ferries sailed 163,224 times, and had 365 mechanical cancellations (0.22 percent).
Asked if Washington State Ferries experienced a sizable mechanical downtime in recent memory, Fujioka pointed to last year. “We had a very difficult summer 2017,” he wrote in an email, detailing breakdowns from mid-July to early September that included a failed generator, rudder issues, and steering problems.
Steamship Authority brass will travel to Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday to field questions about the recent string of failures aboard the MV Island Home, MV Martha’s Vineyard, and MV Woods Hole, among other vessels, that have inconvenienced many Islanders and led to a social media uproar. The meeting will take place at 4 pm in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center.
At a meeting Monday, Edgartown selectmen voted unanimously to send a letter in support of an independent review of the SSA, which is being requested by Marc Hanover, the Island’s representative to the SSA board.
“Residents have become very concerned as they cannot depend on the ferries,” the letter, signed by all three selectmen, states. “When you have to consider yourself lucky because you were able to get off the Island and then return with no glitches, there is something wrong. The ferries are our lifeline, and you are responsible for making sure that service is available and uninterrupted.”
Michael Donaroma, the board’s chairman and owner of Donaroma’s Nursery, pointed out the impact on businesses. He said a shipment of trees from Maryland was delayed. “I can’t imagine what all the other businesses are going through,” he said.
During the discussion, town administrator Pam Dolby questioned why the SSA would oppose an independent review. “Why wouldn’t you want to figure out what’s going on?” she said. “What are you trying to hide? Something is going on.”
Updated to include information from the board of selectmen. – Ed.