In praise of SSA employees

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To the Editor:

It is a great disappointment but no surprise to learn of the unrepentant ineptitude of the board of governors and the management of the Steamship Authority. The earlier McKinsey report heralded many of the issues revealed by the newest study by an independent consultant. (Did we need two studies, or even one, if management knew what it was supposed to be doing?) Others more experienced than I have and will continue to weigh in with constructive recommendations. One hopes that both the board and authority management will take the actions needed to restore faith in the institution they are charged with running. The number of dollars wasted by incompetent management is near-unimaginable. Surely it is immeasurable.

I submit a view that may be additive to the technical corrections so desperately needed. It is simply called “management by walking around.” Anyone who travels on our ferries knows that there seem to be too many employees at any given time. However, the fact is that these men and women seem totally competent and committed to their assignments. They are invariably friendly, and willing to go the extra mile for those of us who by reason of age, eyesight, or simply being “not with it” need a little extra help boarding and getting off. These are everyday courtesies that make the ferry much easier for passengers to navigate.

Is it asking too much for members of management to wander the decks on a consistent basis and acknowledge the service the crews are providing? We recently came to the Island on a ferry one very cold and rainy night. From lining up at Woods Hole, loading, and disembarking, every crew member we encountered was polite and efficient. They seemed dedicated to their jobs. When is the last time anyone in management tapped a crew member on the shoulder and said, “Joe, that was well done, and we appreciate it.” We all know the answer to that!

We know of union tensions, management laxity, and terrible planning or lack thereof. Hopefully these messes will now be cleaned up by prompt firings and the hiring of experienced folks who are dedicated to the mission of the authority. But in the meantime, let us all pause to acknowledge the crews who face the cold, the wind, the slippery decks, needy passengers, and who never complain (at least not to us).

My hope is that other readers will agree and help ensure during the long process of correction that lies ahead that the real people doing the real jobs, in real and often severe conditions, are acknowledged and thanked. They deserve our support. The board and management deserve our scorn.

Tom Knight
West Tisbury

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