Mixed review for SSA general manager assessment

Robert Davis received mixed reviews during an annual review from the Port Council.

Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis, shown here at a past event in Vineyard Haven, received his annual review from the Port Council. —MV Times

Steamship Authority Port Council gave a tougher assessment of Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis this week compared with previous years. 

While some members rated the general manager a rating over 90 out of 100, several criticized the Steamship’s performance, and rated Davis in the 70s. 

Last year, Davis received an overall high grading of around 90 points or higher during the annual review, when he was highly praised; the Steamship Authority board also gave high remarks for the general manager, and offered a pay raise

During Tuesday’s Port Council meeting, Tisbury representative John Cahill did not directly criticize Davis, but he laid out needed improvements to the Steamship Authority’s operations, including amending how requests for proposals are written so they are not “restrictive or noninviting,” fixing unaddressed information technology concerns, and addressing a lack of community and public engagement. Cahill gave Davis a 70 overall.

Falmouth representative Robert Munier said this has been a good operational and financial year; however, Munier pointed out that only half of the Steamship Authority’s goals for the year have been accomplished. He added that the website and freight vessel conversion projects are looking at major overruns. Munier also agreed that the bidding process needed improvements. 

“My bar is higher now, particularly because now that we have a COO that should be able to handle a lot of the day-to-day [duties],” Munier said. He gave Davis a score of 75. 

Oak Bluffs representative and council chair Joe Sollitto described Davis as “loyal and hardworking,” with an extensive knowledge about the Steamship’s history and operations. However, Sollitto said, there was a serious problem with internal and external communications. 

“I [find out] about boat problems involving the Steamship Authority from phone calls, from merchants, and from Islanders Talk long before I receive emails or texts from management,” Sollitto said, who gave Davis a score of 70. 

Sollitto also pointed out other issues, such as how the authority’s management responded to certain issues alongside project costs and overruns.

Nantucket representative and council vice chair Nathaniel Lowell came to the defense of the general manager. He gave Davis a score of 96. Lowell pointed out how improvements have been made, such as extra vessels being available in case a ferry is taken offline. He also underscored how staffing issues are disrupting the entire transportation sector, exacerbated by retirements and a lack of younger talent to fill the gaps.

“The Steamship is slow to react to some of this stuff, I do agree with that,” he said. “But they’re doing it.” Lowell said more improvements can be made. The addition of a COO will help, as will getting new terminal staff to better remember the authority’s amended policies. 

“We’re very fortunate to have someone that has this much knowledge on how the business functions,” Lowell said. 

“In the next year or two, I think you’re going to see a lot of these things resolve, but we can’t forget the improvements to things that we forget, like that spare boat,” he said. 

Lowell wasn’t the only councilor to give high marks. Barnstable representative Roland (“Bud”) Breault gave Davis a score of 90. “I think Bob has done an outstanding job given everything that’s been going on this past year or so,” Breault said. 

Fairhaven representative Mark Rees praised Davis and his team for keeping projects on schedule and overall under budget. But Rees pointed out the delays to the website improvement project, and higher-than-expected costs of the newly purchased freight vessel conversions as the two negatives in his review. 

“Even with that, I thought Bob did an excellent job, and gave him an 87 percent,” Rees said. 

After hearing the reviews, Davis said the successes of the authority came from a team effort. 

“Obviously, there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “Sometimes perspectives are different, so we’ll continue to work on that.”


  1. Finally a crack in the wall of Davis’ evaluations, at least by the Port Council. Perhaps the governors might now feel free to openly criticize him for the obvious shortcomings he manifests.The website revision delay, and the thoroughly screwed up cost estimates to retrofit the recently purchased ferries in particular. The average of his ratings is 79.6. That’s a C+.

    • The Governors serve at the pleasure of the County Commissioners.
      The County Commissioners serve at the pleasure of the voters.
      “You” screwed up.
      Don’t pass the buck.

  2. It will be very interesting to see if the Governors can muster up some intestinal fortitude and make a start at turning this mess around. The bonding capacity, now 300% of what it was 10 years ago, has been already spent on three old ships with power plants that will insure SSA cannot meet the Commonwealth’s emissions goals for 2030. The Island Home sb re-powered if they can’t get it to stop spewing plumes of soot when docking, even on a placid day. It took a quarter million dollar consulting report to define operational problems of the last decade. Do we need McKinsey to tell us the fleet is a mess due to lack of proper planning and wasted spending on facilities and buildings?
    The Governors should see it plainly if they open their eyes-and act!

    • It will be very interesting to see if the voters can muster up some intestinal fortitude and make a start at turning this mess around.
      The problem is in the mirror.

  3. Why buy mudboats that need to turn around and have vehiclesBACK ON ( with 95 db beepers howling!) for the Vineyard run? One size does not fit all! Some better way of financing the SSA has to be found, so that RO/RO s can be purpose built for Vineyard run. Hazardous cargoes demand ” open” vessels . Serious studies including SSA crewmembers that actually run these vessels should be considered before plans/ tank tests are done.

  4. As I have bleated before, in North Carolina, the costs of the ferries are absorbed by the Tourist Board of the state government. Transportation to the Islands costs nothing to the user. The boats are similar to the Katama. One stays in one’s car; there are no places to eat and I’m unsure about bathroom facilities. The ferry my daughter and I took over to Ocracoke took 45 minutes and I think neither of us felt deprived of comfort. I’m not sure of the down sides of this operation; I’m sure they exist and someone will enlighten me. Their boats run w/o reservation all day long; when a boat is full, it takes off. The possible downside might be that the workers were not (I’m not sure about now) unionized. What of this model might be applied to the SSA?

    • The ferries you speak of run in very protected warm waters.
      How mich do the ferries cost the taxpayer per person?
      Bad model, look to Washington State, they do ferries well.

Comments are closed.