To the Editor:
This summer many year-round and summer Island residents rallied around Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) bus drivers for better wages, benefits, and job security. Now it is time for us to support another important group of transportation workers, the Steamship Authority (SSA) workers, while at the same time protecting your own health. As a summer resident and frequent off-season visitor, I rely on the SSA ferries to transport my family and me to and from the Vineyard.
Over the years, I have noted more and more ferry riders starting their car engines well before they will be exiting the ferry. This is a major air quality issue for our SSA workers and everyone else who is on the car deck of the boat. Car exhaust contains carbon monoxide which even at low levels can cause confusion and depression. At high levels carbon monoxide exposure can lead to death. Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are also in car exhaust, low-level chronic exposure to these gases can cause health problems such as lung and heart disease. Particulate matter is also found in car emissions, these tiny particles can pass the protective structures of our respiratory system and can get into our lungs and circulate throughout the body. Other pollutants are known to cause cancer, such as benzene, which can attach to the small particulates and expose the person breathing the polluted air to the carcinogen. All of this is compounded on the hot, humid, summer days with the humidity adding to the particulate pollution and holding the car emissions in the boat’s car deck. One may think, “Well, the doors to the ferry are open, so it is okay to start the car.” – NO! Depending on the direction of the wind, and we all know that can be variable, car exhaust can be blown back on the ship and concentrate the pollutants. Air quality is the great equalizer – you can’t buy your way out of it. We all breathe the same air. So when people start their cars too soon they are polluting the air that the workers have to breathe all day long and the air that car passengers are breathing – even if the air conditioning in your car is on recirculate, at some point the polluted air will get into the car.
I have spoken to frustrated SSA workers, the dock captain in Oak Bluffs, and I have even walked through the boat telling people to turn off their engines myself (perhaps you have met me.) When there are signs on the ferry stating not to start car engines until one is told by the crew, they are rare and in places that are not easily visible. The Steamship announcement to return to your car as the boat reaches its destination is not consistent in reminding passengers not to start their car and is frequently inaudible.
Air quality on the ferry is a health concern for all of us who ride the ferry, especially the dedicated crew of the SSA. We all are responsible for following the rules and not start car engines until instructed to do so. But this is a challenge when the rules are not made clear. There should be visible signs every 10 feet on the car deck on every ferry, with fines for those who do not comply with the rule. Repeated offenders should lose the privilege of riding the ferry with an automobile. Afterall, if someone does not have concern for others and cannot follow rules, do we really want them driving on the Island?
Oak Bluffs summer resident