At a Friday morning public information session, Steamship Authority treasurer Mark Rozum and assistant treasurer Courtney Oliveira announced that the SSA seeks to increase fares for the upcoming year.
There were 18 people participating in the Zoom, according to SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll.
The proposed adjustment is due to increased fuel prices, inflation, and costs of maintenance and dry docking vessels, Rozum said.
Ferry passengers in vehicles under 20 feet in length can expect to pay an additional $3 to $5 for a one-way trip, $10 during peak operating hours. Passengers in vehicles over 20 feet will be charged an additional 8%, per the proposed hike, and walk-passenger fares will increase $.50 for adults, $.25 for children and seniors.
The proposed 2023 SSA operating budget is based upon the last 12 months of traffic, per the SSA’s “historical budget process,” Rozum said, which had not been used for the last few years due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Between Aug. 1, 2021, and July 31, 2022, the operating expenses amounted to $132.7 million, said Rozum, which exceeds the period’s operating revenues of $129.7 million. Accounting for additional income and charges, net income from 2022 operations came out to a little over $1 million. With the proposed fare adjustments, the SSA would take in $9 million in net operating revenue in 2023.
Rozum said the fare hike would allow for an 8.1 percent increase in passenger revenue, 15 percent increase in parking revenue, and 3.7 percent increase in freight revenue. Projections show a 1.3 percent decrease in revenue from automobile fares.
Oliveria said the biggest expense increases to the 2023 budget include operation of terminals ($907,803); general expenses, which account for pensions and relief, and the new chief operating officer position ($1.1 million); depreciation, which includes seven new electric buses and charging stations, two new shuttle vans, updated SSA mobile app, and purchases of MV Aquinnah and MV Monomoy ($1.52 million); maintenance, which includes dry dock costs and dock repairs ($1.88 million), and vessel operations ($6.97 million). Utility costs are also expected to increase by around 30 percent, she said, in addition to a 69 percent rise in fuel costs.
One Island resident asked Rozum if the SSA receives any state funding, and if so, whether there has been any effort to secure more.
Rozum said they do “get a small amount of federal grants,” but most of the operation is funded through fare charges, and regularly submits applications for additional grants.
The resident, who went by his first name, Jason, noted the recent issues Islanders have been noticing about the ferry operations, such as boats not filled even near capacity. He said it seems “there’s a bit of a lack of accountability,” by the SSA, regarding “general cost management and capacity utilization.”
“I really have a tough time looking at the Steamship Authority as the ‘lifeline to the Island,’” he said, as residents are getting “hit hard, year after year, with these increases to the rates.” The SSA is “more of a barrier to the Island,” he added
Even with the excursion rate, he said, “$100 to go off Island is not a small amount. . .
It’s just disappointing to me,” he continued, “that I keep seeing these increases but at the other end of it, it seems like there’s a little bit of mismanagement.” He urged the board to consider not increasing rates at all for Islanders, and instead suggested reducing the rates.
At the recent SSA board meeting, The Times asked about holding the informational meeting on a Friday morning when most folks are working. In response, the SSA sent out a notice Thursday afternoon announcing there will be a second public information session concerning the proposed fare hikes and 2023 operating budget on Monday at 5 pm via Zoom.
To join the session, go to Zoom.us and use meeting ID 868 8784 9568. Participants can also call in to one of the following numbers: (929) 436-2866; (301) 715-8592; (312) 626-6799; (669) 900-6833; (253) 215-8782; or (346) 248-7799. The session will be moderated by Communications Director Sean F. Driscoll and will include General Manager Robert B. Davis, Treasurer Mark K. Rozum, and Assistant Treasurer Courtney M. Oliveira. Questions can be emailed ahead of time to email@example.com or asked at the session.