Putting the steam(ed) in Steamship Authority

Islanders pushed to petition due to lack of reservation availability.

Trucks load onto the Island Home from Vineyard Haven Friday. -George Brennan

Updated June 29

Frustrations with the Steamship Authority have boiled over into a petition calling for a resident-only commuter ferry that prioritizes trips to and from Martha’s Vineyard by Islanders.

The petition was created by Vineyard artisan and business owner Rachel Baumrin Thursday morning. In a phone conversation with The Times, Baumrin said she had been thinking about the issue for the past few weeks, and felt something needed to be done and someone needed to stand up.

“I just think they’ve forgotten it’s supposed to be about getting people off the Island too,” Baumrin said. “They’re a monopoly, and we have to hold them accountable.”

In addition to setting up the petition, which has garnered more than 900 signatures in the past week, Baumrin sent messages to state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and the SSA. She said the SSA called her back and left a message, but she has not yet responded. The Times could not immediately reach Fernandes for comment.

She went on to say the issue is not just in the summer, but that year-round Islanders struggle with the ferry. “It’s not a summer problem, it’s a Steamship problem, and I think they’re just being very mismanaged,” she said.

Baumrin is hopeful that putting a group of like-minded people together and asking for change can make a commuter ferry a reality. Once she’s collected her goal of 500 signatures, she plans to reach out to Fernandes and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro.

“To me I think it’s worth getting Fernandes and Cyr to negotiate something that will work here,” she said. “We are not happy. We are fed up and this does not work, and we need a solution.”

In a statement to The Times SSA general manager Robert Davis said the SSA recognizes a change in dynamics for travel to and from the Island post-COVID.

“Therefore, we need to assess whether the current system of setting aside space for Island residents across numerous trips, which provides travel options throughout the day, remains appropriate and meets demand. The Steamship Authority will work with Island residents to evaluate whether current allocated spaces are reflective of the trips they want to be on — and that there are enough of them — in order to determine future space allocations.”

Meanwhile, in a separate post on the Islanders Talk Facebook page, a photo posted at 8 pm Thursday showed a long line of cars on Woods Hole Road waiting to get on the ferry.

Falmouth Police Chief Edward Dunne told The Times officers were dispatched Wednesday evening to Woods Hole Road to see what was causing the backup. Chief Dunne said they found no accident or other cause other than there being a high traffic volume — ”a lot of people trying to get into one location.”

Dunne said the traffic was backed up past Church Street. 

The post featured more than 140 comments from people, many expressing their frustration with waiting, and some even missing their ferry reservation.

“We have been in line from the top of the hill for 18 minutes … one guy in the check-in booth…we have a reservation on the 8:30 pm,” Susie Wallo wrote. “Lived on MV 42 years and never ever seen this before … and this is a Wednesday in June.”

Jamie Spears Vanderhoop said her husband missed his reservation. “My husband was stuck in that line, and missed his 7:30 reservation,” she wrote. “Thankfully he has a doctor’s note from Children’s, and will hopefully get back tonight. An employee told him that people have been in standby for 9-plus hours today.”

Another commenter, David Murphy, wrote that he was 40 minutes early for his 7:45 pm reservation. “Exactly 40 minutes in traffic to get to the booth,” he wrote. ‘You just missed your boat,’ he said. I went ballistic.”

Murphy estimated the booth worker was processing one vehicle per minute. “That, my friends, is the problem in a nutshell,” he wrote, urging the SSA to get more help at the booth.

Rosie Shugrue posted about her parents getting stuck in the traffic after arriving earlier and being told they were too early. “They came back and waited in this god-awful line until 9:30; after obviously missing their boat, they missed the last one too,” she wrote. “To quote my mom: ‘A colossal cluster [expletive]’ and something she’s never seen in her 73 years coming to the Island. Now they are searching for a place to stay tonight, for which they will of course not be compensated by the SSA.”

In another statement, Davis said the traffic was the result of an unexpected high volume of standby vehicles.

“Steamship Authority personnel did their best to process and move the vehicles along as quickly as possible, given the finite physical footprint of the terminal property,” Davis said. “We intend to further investigate and assess what needs to be done to avoid this congestion in the future.”

Updated to include comments from Davis.


  1. In Vineyard Haven we have two check-in booths and in OB, one, which means there are three on this side. In Woods Hole there is one booth to handle everything. Seems like a simple fix. Get on it SSA. Add another booth. The lack of reservation space for islanders is a whole other issue and needs to be addressed.

  2. Nice that the SSA is formulating a response to the petition but what in God’s name are they doing about people missing their reservations because they can’t issue tickets fast enough? This is an immediate and unacceptable problem that needs to be rectified now.

    • Ted, have you summitted a proposal on how to issue tickets fast enough?
      It is unacceptable that you complain at length and provide no clear solutions.

      • Albert
        First, if two sentences is “complaining at length”, what do you make of the rest of this thread? Second, It does not seem too hard. VH has two booths manned by one employee each. WH has two booths – one empty, one with two employees. Hmmm? Or how about giving people the option of printing their ticket ahead of time or having it on their cell phone? It is 2021 not 1821. Further, the SSA has been doing this for 100 years and get paid to get cars back and forth, how about addressing the issue or at least determining that it was a one time unavoidable event that should not happen again. We are talking about mid-week in June not Friday night on August 1! It was bad enough that someone called the police which is a bad use of public resources. Any way you slice it, it is not unreasonable for a customer with a reservation to show up 45 minutes before departure within site of the ticket booth to expect not to get shut out. If you disagree, you have much more patience than I and I am in awe.

  3. Yes, things seem very , very congested on the Woods hole road this year , and some days it seems to take more minutes to check in at the booth than it used to…
    I have another observation: I am now needing to go to Falmouth Hospital every day for radiation therapy for a month, so two boat trips and bus rides back and forth. The busses seem to run on a very uneven schedule, I wait at the same time in the Palmer lot every day to go back to Woods Hole , sometimes there is a bus, sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes twenty, and sometimes there are three busses all at once.
    On another note, has anyone else noticed that the brand new bulkheads and ramps are not usable by the Island Home in Woods Hole at low tide, passengers need to depart by the freight deck. Not such a big deal, but perhaps the engineers who designed the slips might have taken tides into account, as far as I know, they have been pretty regular in Woods Hole for several millenniums, and, yes , they are higher and lower during a full or new moon, I learned that in second grade, how did the architects and engineers miss that? P.s. I got home today and noticed that I had received a confirmation email from the SSA for my trip on June 22, a little late, I think

  4. What the heck is happening over there? Ive been off the island twice in the last 6 months and both times arrived in Woods Hole several hours before my reservation. I was told to go away and come back for my reserved time. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED IN 30 YEARS. And this was in February and there were no lines. Im hearing the same thing from other islanders who would routinely arrive early and were able to catch an earlier ferry. Who decided this was a good idea?

  5. I’m still waiting for a response to an email ( he requested I send so he could respond) from SSA rep Sean Driscoll. It’s been over a month. He even told me he couldn’t find the email when I last last inquired just before the ransom ware attack. I sent it to him again. I didn’t bother him while that was going on but still have heard nothing. My email was expressing some of my concerns and experiences. I asked what the SSA’s plan is for the future as I’m sure they must have one. Right?

  6. Vineyards should have a fly-over lane to bypass all the traffic waiting for the ferry on Woods Hole rd-but only if Woods Holers could use it to get to the post office or fire trucks to emergencies.

    • Who gets to decide who is a ‘Vineyards’?
      There are three roads into Woods Hole, even summer people know where they all are.

  7. Atleast being 45 minutes out Woods Hole to the Vineyard has many departures trying being on Nantucket trying to get to and from Hyannis a 2hr 15min trip. It got to a point Friday that the Hyannis standby line was frozen. I know on your run no standbys are allowed around weekends all summer however Hyannis and Nantucket they are allowed every day all summer. There is so much truck and freight traffic Hyannis is like a truck stop

  8. Please give it a rest. The pandemic has created monsters. The employees at the SSA
    have been working around the clock. Not enough help, limited space and being hacked
    doesn’t help the situation. I am a retired employee of the SSA and I sympathize with
    islanders and those traveling on a regular basis but try and understand this season
    was going to be a difficult one no matter what. People have been cooped up for a year
    and are desperate to enjoy their summer as well. It’s a shame how rude and obnoxious
    travelers have been. Take a breather please. Being a little more understanding instead
    of complaining try helping by thanking those who are trying their best to help you.

    • I am an islander who is sick of the substandard service and exorbitantly raised prices. The SSA should do more to help out islanders, both in terms of costing and convenience. Pandemic created? Please. These issues existed long before the pandemic, as any islander will tell you. I would encourage you to be a little more understanding of these issues for islanders getting to and from where they live. Sorry if your feelings were hurt, while I figure out how to get to the mainland.

      • Do you remember when the Island was great?
        Before the SSA?
        It was sooooo quiet in the Winter.

        John, will you stand up and lead the way to re-privatize ferry service to the Island?
        Let market forces, entrepreneurship, American Exceptionalism and the profit motive drive down prices?

        Make The Island And America Great Again.

        John, how long have you been an Islander, are you more island than ‘thou’?

  9. Qualified employees to work for the SSA are not easy to recruit. The SSA may never get the personnel it needs because of covid 19. The future normal will not be the same as past normal.Enjoy the summer.

  10. I went on standby the week after Memorial Day weekend and I had no problem at all. Everybody was nice under the circumstances. If I missed the next boat another one came right after that- no big deal.

  11. The ssa and all the other buissness can’t get people to work here because no one can afford to live here that are willing to work these jobs. Fix the housing issue.

  12. I felt the need to chime in with our recent experience. Last Monday my husband had a treatment for his macula degeneration at the doctor’s office in Wareham.We always get the first boat back afterwards because he’s in a lot of discomfort. We make a 6:15 reservation and get a medical letter from the doctor to give to the SSA, which usually allows us to get on the next boat. Well, the Woods Hole was broken down, in Woods Hole, so no medicals were taken until after three boats had come and gone. Huge trucks and a sailboat got on, but not one single medical.By then there were six cars waiting. I understand it’s policy to take reservations first when a boat has broken down, but some of the people in our line really needed to get home right away. Two of use got on the fourth boat, and I hope the others followed soon. This has never happened to us before, but apparently there are all types of firsts this season.
    Now about the boats breaking down, remember the good old Islander, she never broke down……

  13. Complaining about the SSA is nothing new. It’s an equal-opportunity endeavor for all concerned. Certainly Covid has not made the SSA’s job or Islanders’ interaction with it any easier. What we are seeing just now is a dramatic upsurge in the conflict between the SSA’s business model, and Islanders’ need for access and service. We understand that summer income surpluses subsidize the SSA budget for the increasingly shrinking quiet moneths. However, the business end seems to take precedence. The service end for Islanders needs some help, and we’ve been asking for some time.

    Our need to get off-Island and back isn’t suspended from June through September. Frustration with getting reservations in the summer is not new, and certainly not because of Covid. However, the process of getting vehicles onto the boats, from ticketing to loading the boats, clearly no longer works very well, if it ever did. And what is the SSA going to do about it – other than studying it? It does make living here difficult especially in the summer.

    Frustration with dramatically increased summer traffic on the Island also is not new. Covid trapped us in our homes for over a year, but for many years before Covid many Islanders have been self-trapped during the summers by postponing off-Island trips when possible, and having to organize their lives around ferry availability when a trip is unavoidable. Going to the down-Island towns in summer, for whatever reason, becomes an unpleasant chore between the traffic along the way to the lack of parking when you get where you’re going. This is where the business model of the SSA runs headlong into its service mandate. Where is the critical thinking that incorporates the consequences of bringing ever more vacationer vehicles to the Island including the problems that causes in Falmouth?

    Living here shouldn’t be an ordeal, and neither should visiting. The biggest common denominator is the SSA. When is it going to step up and address the obvious issues it causes as they continue to mount up?

    • OMG, a sensible reply from someone who knows what he’s talking about!! Am I still on the Vineyard or have I been magically teleported somewhere else? Whenever the SSA comes up, the MVT comments section starts sounding like Twitter, with no length limits.

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