SSA transparency is lacking

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The Steamship Authority is coming off a difficult month. On June 2, the SSA was the target of a ransomware attack that affected its website, its reservation system, and its electronic ticketing at SSA terminals.

Information from SSA leadership has trickled out slowly. We learned just last week, at the SSA board meeting, that the authority did not pay a ransom. It was the first time general manager Robert Davis made any public statements on the cyber attack.

That’s just unacceptable.

But don’t expect the SSA board to hold him accountable. They barely broached the subject, giving the administration attaboys instead of pressing Davis to be more forthcoming to the public.

Nearly every press question posed to Davis at the board meeting came with a line about the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. While we understand the need to keep some details of the investigation under wraps, it hardly seems like it would breach that investigation to let the public know who the consultant is who worked with SSA IT to get the systems back online, and how much that cost.

Remember, the Steamship Authority is a fare-based ferry service. That means they don’t get any government subsidies, and eventually any expense of the SSA becomes an expense for the people who use the ferries.

We do appreciate the work done by ferry captains and other SSA employees to work with antiquated systems to keep ferries running mostly on time. They’re the ones who deserve a pat on the back.

Meanwhile, if social media is any indication, customers are fuming about the SSA service overall. There’s a petition drive underway seeking a commuter boat to and from the Vineyard for Islanders only. Reservations are always at a premium during the summer season, but this year we’ve heard horror story after horror story about people not being able to get on or off the Island when need arises. In a separate post, frustrated customers shared their stories about being unable to make it to their scheduled reservations on an evening last week because of a backup on Woods Hole Road. Customers reported getting into the line of traffic 45 minutes ahead of their scheduled reservation and not making it to the booth on time to board.

It took a couple of days, but Davis responded to our questions, and has conceded that there are some issues that need to be addressed. It’s a step in the right direction.

Finally, we’re happy to report that Islanders will soon have a second option when it comes to getting to and from Logan Airport in Boston by bus. Plymouth & Brockton bus line was given approval to offer the service once details are worked out. The company also plans to provide service to T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island, something not currently available from Woods Hole.

We’d like to think we played a small role in making this happen. P&B president John Cogliano told us that he’d been trying to get the SSA’s attention since April, and shared emails he sent to Davis that went unanswered. When we started asking questions about why the competitive service wasn’t getting the general manager’s attention, the issue suddenly showed up on the SSA board’s agenda for consideration.

Loyalty, in this instance, should have played no role. While Bonanza, and then Peter Pan, the company that bought Bonanza, have always provided airport service from Woods Hole, they should not have a monopoly on that service if another company is willing to offer it as well. 

In the end, Islanders are the beneficiaries of letting the market decide if there is enough business for two companies. As the lifeline for Islanders, that should always be at the forefront of the Steamship Authority’s decision making process.