Updated Jan. 24
A week after website issues occurred during the Nantucket summer reservation openings, the Steamship Authority’s (SSA) online difficulties happened again, albeit to a lesser degree, during the Martha’s Vineyard summer reservation opening on Tuesday, Jan. 24.
A timeline posted on the SSA Facebook page reveals that customers were having difficulty with the virtual waiting room. At one point, the wait time was up to 15 minutes or longer. The SSA made a 5:45 am update that investigations were underway to see what the issues might be, later suggesting at 6:10 am that Chrome users switch to another web browser, like Firefox, since they were the ones experiencing most of the issues. Between 7:15 and 8 am, the SSA gradually decreased the number of people who could be on the site at one time, which was one of the factors that caused issues during the Nantucket opening. This helped the SSA website’s performance, according to the post, and an 8:30 am update stated, “We are seeing greatly improved performance on the website after decreasing the site load. We’re at 13,800 transactions.”
Many people commented under the timeline to criticize how the opening went, with a few people celebrating that they got their tickets.
In a follow-up press release on Tuesday afternoon, SSA general manager Robert Davis said, “The general opening did not meet the authority’s high expectations for its customers,” and he plans to “seek a review of its information technology systems following a high volume of complaints about the website’s performance.” According to the release, Davis plans to bring the issue up at the SSA board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25.
The release states the cause of the issues customers experienced is still under review. Meanwhile, the release shared sales numbers for the Martha’s Vineyard opening day: By noon, more than 20,900 transactions were completed, totaling $5.3 million in revenue. During “the comparable day in 2022,” the SSA completed 24,580 transactions that totaled nearly $5.8 million in revenue, with 20,825 transactions made by noon of that day.
“Following thorough examination and testing of our systems by in-house network technicians, consulting programmers, and system vendors, I am confident that we have resolved the issues affecting our reservation process,” SSA general manager Robert B. Davis said in the release. “I want to reassure our customers that we have examined our systems and processes thoroughly, and we have every expectation that the Vineyard general opening will proceed smoothly.”
Resuming the planned schedule came after “modifications to the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority’s information technology infrastructure were made and successfully tested,” according to the release.
The release states that the SSA ran two load tests on its website in November, and “received normal results,” with further verification on “network connectivity and other technical configurations” being done prior to opening the summer reservations. However, customers had difficulty accessing the website or making reservations on Jan. 17.
According to the release, “an analysis of Tuesday’s events uncovered two issues.” The first was that the SSA cloud-based servers hosting its website databases “were not properly set up to handle both the volume and duration of web traffic associated with the opening.” After changing the server’s configuration, “several of the authority’s internal web servers could not then maintain a connection to the cloud servers,” affecting customers trying to get on the website or being “unable to sustain a stable connection.” The release states that taking the affected servers offline allowed the remaining servers to handle the remaining web traffic for the day.
During a discussion with The Times in December, SSA spokesperson Sean Driscoll said efforts were being made to develop a “new, more user-friendly website and a mobile app.” However, Driscoll told The Times on Monday morning, the transition and the issues were unrelated.
“The issues last week are not related to the website project. We load [tested] the website to simulate Vineyard opening day traffic, which is [approximately three times] Nantucket opening day traffic,” Driscoll said in a text.
The SSA’s information technology team and its outside vendors have been working to ensure the servers are properly configured, the release states. Another load test was done on the failed servers, and they “handled four times the web traffic normally seen on a reservation opening day without incident,” according to the release.
The general summer reservations opened on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 5 am for travel on the Martha’s Vineyard route from May 18 through Oct. 23. The SSA plans to use a virtual waiting room again, but will increase the inactivity time allowance from three minutes to five minutes. The release recommends customers have their payment details and travel dates ready before starting the reservation process. The waiting room will be cleared at 5 am, so anyone who joined the queue ahead of the official opening “will not receive an advantageous position in line,” according to the release. The SSA reservation office will have extended hours to accommodate customers on the following dates: 5 am to 6 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and 7 am to 6 pm from Wednesday, Jan. 25, to Monday, Jan. 30. The release states that reservations cannot be made in person or by phone at this time.
According to the release, the SSA processed 9,153 transactions that totaled $4.748 million in revenue during the Nantucket route general opening day, which was on Tuesday, Jan. 17. During the Nantucket general opening in 2022, the SSA processed a record 9,499 transactions, with nearly 4.7 million in revenue. In 2021, 5,530 transactions were made during the Nantucket general opening that totaled $2.7 million in revenue.