Missing the boat

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Where do we begin? 

What a shameful performance by the Steamship Authority on Tuesday, as the ferry service opened reservations on the Martha’s Vineyard route and then the system crashed. And if that’s not bad enough, they dropped the ball in informing the public.

How could we have seen this coming? Well, we’ve experienced this act before. And if we haven’t seen an outright crash of the website, we’ve been there when the SSA website couldn’t handle the kind of volume that the annual reservation day brings — the need for constant refreshes, which serve to frustrate and infuriate customers.

To exacerbate matters, there were social media posts that first made it seem like no big deal, and later made promises that weren’t kept. An early morning tweet professed that nothing was wrong, and customers needed to be patient. Later, a post vowed service “will be back at 9 am,” only to have it not return until much later. (The SSA says the system was back at 12:30 pm, but there were times after noon Tuesday we couldn’t even get on the site to check the daily schedule, let alone make a reservation.) It’s just a bad idea to be so adamant in a time of crisis that the service will return, when you don’t know and it hasn’t been tested.

In perhaps the worst optics, the Steamship Authority board was meeting Tuesday morning, and they spoke about the situation briefly. The visual of key SSA administrators sitting in this boardroom while a major crisis was going on is a terrible look. Why didn’t anyone suggest taking care of business that needed addressing immediately, and postponing the remainder of the agenda to a future date, so the SSA brass could be available to at least lend support to fix the problem?

The board’s performance wasn’t much better. Do board members realize they are there to hold the SSA administration accountable? Moira Tierney, New Bedford’s representative, seems to get it. She has been vocal in pushing back and asking tough questions of general manager Robert Davis.

This is an important time. The SSA is working toward implementing changes suggested by an outside consultant, and is in the midst of a massive and expensive project in Woods Hole. While Islanders, concerned about climate change, are clamoring for electric ferries, the SSA is approaching its bonding limits on projects that mostly do little to assure safe passage across Vineyard Sound.

Marc Hanover has been a strong advocate for the Vineyard at times. In 2018, in the midst of turmoil, he pushed for the board to meet on the Island, and then advocated strongly for the top-to-bottom review that the SSA underwent. But now that he’s stepping aside, there is an opportunity to bring a new voice and a new urgency to the SSA board.

There are four candidates who have applied with the Dukes County Commission before Hanover announced his departure. What that says is that Vineyarders lack confidence their voices are being heard.

The commission has a tough choice ahead: Which of the candidates can step into the chairman’s role and provide a strong voice for Islanders at the table. 

One thing is certain: Business as usual isn’t working.