To the editor:
I have been the first to say, loudly and often, that 2018 has been a challenging year for the Steamship Authority. Regardless, I was extremely disappointed with your editorial of Oct. 4 (“Bad timing for a rate hike”) regarding its proposed rate adjustments, not only because it contained out-of-date information but because I strongly disagree with your conclusions.
Yes, the authority is in the midst of its largest and most complex capital project in its 58-year history. But it is a vital one, to protect its ability to provide the lifeline to Martha’s Vineyard that it has since 1960. The facilities in Woods Hole were obsolete, and put the authority at risk for operational catastrophe; their replacement is a necessity. A dime’s worth of delay today would have been a dollar’s worth of pain had the authority not acted now. And instead of being “bulldozed,” the modular building will be able to be dismantled and used elsewhere, either by the authority or another entity, after it is no longer needed on our property.
The Steamship Authority takes great care to adjust its rates only when absolutely necessary to ensure a high level of service and to maintain a safe, operational fleet. It has been many years since these rates have been adjusted, even as the Steamship Authority’s costs have risen, as has the national Consumer Price Index. Freight rates have not risen since 2013, and vehicular rates have remained steady since 2014 — what other company can you say has held the line on rising costs for that long, especially one that would have to answer to shareholders, as you suggest? I dare say that such a company would be told not that it has a spending problem, but that it is not charging enough for its goods and services in light of increasing costs.
The difficulties of this spring are in no way impacting the budgetary decisions of 2019, so any suggestion that the authority is forcing the Island to pay for the missteps in March and April by adjusting its rates is absolutely false. And, I might add, since those months, the ferry line has run with its typically minimal amount of mechanical cancellations and with a superb on-time performance record.
In the abstract, the timing of a proposed rate adjustment is less than ideal. But the realities of rising fuel costs, contractually obligated pay increases to our valued employees, long-overdue operational enhancements, and the ongoing necessity to maintain our vessels and facilities cannot be ignored. The authority board will consider the 2019 budget and rate adjustments at its Oct. 16 meeting; I do not know how the vote will fall, but I know that general manager Robert Davis and the staff are always cautious about making any change to our rate structure, and they consider how it will affect not only the Island residents but the visitors upon whom the Vineyard depends for its economy. The board, too, will carefully weigh all the implications of the proposal and act in the best interest of everyone.
No one — especially not myself, my fellow board members or the Steamship Authority staff — cheers a proposed rate adjustment, and we will proceed cautiously when casting our votes.