Steamship Authority’s fear of competition


To the Editor:

Communities served by the Steamship Authority continue to wait for the Authority to act with innovation, futuristic thinking, and a concern for the health and safety of the residents of these communities. 

In 2021, 56,522 freight trucks serving Martha’s Vineyard were carried by the Steamship Authority to and from the Island through Woods Hole. Those trucks pollute our air, threaten our children at school bus stops, and disturb residents day and night. The growth in the number of freight trucks carrying Martha’s Vineyard’s trash, demolition materials, landscaping materials, septic waste, and other non-time-sensitive freight through Falmouth’s residential neighborhoods continues unchecked.

When will the Steamship Authority use its licensing and operations management powers to bring relief from these serious problems? 

We need fast-ferry service to the Vineyard that teachers and journeymen can use in order to alleviate the current affordable housing crisis there. The SSA continues to block introduction of this service from Woods Hole, apparently on the grounds that it would cannibalize passenger numbers on its slow boats, and cause it to lose money. That justification is simply irresponsible.

When will the SSA begin to seriously consider electrification of its operations? The Vineyard Transit Authority operates 16 electric buses, but the SSA operates none. Given the volume of SSA passenger traffic on its buses, an aggressive conversion to electric could have significant environmental and public health benefits.

The Steamship Authority must begin to license off-Cape service to meet the freight needs of the islands. The SSA has dragged its feet at every step in the process of licensing this service. Only the crisis of a snafu with UPS and SSA scheduling prompted the Authority to license limited off-Cape freight service to Nantucket this summer. 

It has taken a full year for the SSA to formulate and issue a Request for Proposals for third-party freight service to the Vineyard from an off-Cape port. Endless delays and foot dragging merely compound the problems. Even as the islands’ populations grow rapidly (a 25 percent increase for the Vineyard, and 40 percent increase for Nantucket for 2010 to 2020), the SSA’s obvious fear of competition leads it to block change and avoid innovation. 

It is only through such competition and other forms of creative problem solving that the SSA’s level of service will improve while, at the same time, prodding it to take meaningful steps to mitigate the environmental, and public health and safety, concerns that have been so carefully identified by residents and visitors alike.


Nathaniel Trumbull
Woods Hole