SSA reveals website malfunction causes

Revenue is still strong despite issues. 

16
The Steamship Authority revealed what caused the its website mishap. — Eunki Seonwoo

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. 

The SSA announced in a Friday press release its summer vehicle reservations for the Martha’s Vineyard route “will proceed as scheduled” despite the website mishap that took place on Tuesday, Jan. 17. 

“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.

16 COMMENTS

  1. It is quite evident that the SSA has all kinds of technology issues, including its non-working Wifi service on the ferries. I wrote an email to the SSA five or six years ago asking that they invest in the Wifi system. We now live in a world where it should be possible to have internet connection for the 7-mile ride to and from “America.” I do hope that Mr. Davis and Mr. Driscoll read the comments on this article so that they can listen to their constituents. Those of us who live here are captive to non-functioning systems and boats that go down way too frequently with mechanical issues. The least the SSA could do is make it possible for us to work or read or amuse our kids while on the boat.

  2. Spent $3000 on ticket books. Signed in at 4:45 am 3500 in line. Finally got in at 6:15am . Would not let me sign into my acct. Had to switch browser and now am 3009 in line. 40 years doing this but it keeps getting worse!

  3. How hard can it be?

    This is 2023 and websites are not cutting edge technology but to handle thousands of requests at once they do need on demand infrastructure, virtual servers spinning up as needed. Each one is going to cost. In other words throw money at it and pass the costs down as a surcharge.

    The real problem is the same as the Taylor Swift issue, everyone rushing to get limited tickets at once. That’s what dates back to the days when we queued up in person for tickets. Even if there was a lottery it would be an improvement, it’s already effectively a lottery this way.

  4. This system still does not work. Signed in at 4:30am. Kicked off at 5:00 and placed 3800 in line. It took another 90 min to complete one transaction. After that the system kicked me out and restarted 4 times. Pathetic.

    • The Island is a great place to get away from all that high tech crap.
      People communicating with people in person or by writing.

  5. The process has been getting worse and worse the last few years. This morning took about 2 hours using a handful of laptops/ phones / ipads to try and get through – many times freezing up and knocking us out completely… We are thankful we got them in the end, but it does seem the technology could be upgraded to handle the capacity issues.

  6. The worst part of this (and that is saying a lot because this morning was a failure on many levels) is the SSA’s false assurances leading up to today. Please don’t tell us the website will work when it was a complete failure. If you arrange a queue system, isn’t the point to limit users to a number that won’t crash the site? After entering the queue when told to, multiple users waited hours to be let into the website. When finally in the reservation system, nothing on the website worked. SSA tweeted at 7:15 that it was “slowly decreasing the number of users on the site at one time in response to reports of slowdowns once people get past the waiting room.” In this and other users’ experience, that was achieved by simply kicking us off and placing us in the back of the line after waiting for hours to be let into the website. Yet SSA brags about “total transactions thus far” when this is happening in the background. I respectfully request that SSA bring in the right people with the right technical know-how to fix this. Build a system that works.

  7. I attempted to log in at 6:30 and was 6000th in the queue. Managed to make it to the booking payment stage after one hour only to be kicked out and placed at 2000th in the queue. Repeatedly received “508” errors and forced to re enter my data.

    Your testing was a farce! Fire both your CIO and your consultants. Spend some money and get some scalable technology.

    It’s not that hard.

  8. So sad, finally let on to site, to be 4600th in line. Waited very patiently over the hour plus, was down to 1186 and then the system kicked me out and put me in place at 9800. I just gave up at that point, beyond frustrated. Haven’t looked yet but am dreading to see if there are any openings available. Such a challenge to get to the island!

  9. I easily logged onto the site at around 4pm CST from Chicago on Jan 24th; no queue; got through immediately to the schedule page and got the one way trip to MV on May 24 that I wanted. I had no idea there were problems earlier in the day. I did notice in the info leading up to the opening day that “the queue will refresh at 5am so there is no reason to log in ahead of that time” but several of the above comments are from people who logged in before 5am. I have no idea if that played a role in their experience.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here