The Steamship Authority (SSA) may be raising seasonal rates to tackle a forecast budget shortfall.
The Port Council unanimously voted to recommend increasing rates for vehicles in the summer to the Steamship Authority Board during its Tuesday, Sept. 12, meeting.
According to a presentation given by SSA treasurer and comptroller Mark Rozum and assistant treasurer Courtney Oliveira, the proposed preliminary 2024 operating budget would be $137.74 million, a 3.6 percent increase from the previous year.
However, the anticipated net income for 2024 is $6.077 million, which missed the SSA’s targeted net income of $9.184 million.
“It sort of just unveils and sort of proves we … operate like a private company,” Port Council Nantucket representative and vice chair Nathaniel Lowell said after seeing the proposed budget. “We need to make money.”
The primary cost increases Rozum listed as reasons for the proposed rate adjustments were $350,000 more for training (48.2 percent increase), $380,000 more for insurance (7.9 percent increase), and $3 million more for maintenance costs (12.9 percent increase) — including dry docking services for SSA vessels the Nantucket, Eagle, Island Home, and Iyanough.
To make up for the near $3 million deficit, SSA staff proposed increasing seasonal rates for next year. Collectively, the rates are expected to bring in $3.177 million, with $1.808 million from the Martha’s Vineyard route and $1.369 million from the Nantucket route. These were calculated based on past data and budgets, according to Rozum: “So one route’s not carrying the other route.”
The following changes were proposed for the Vineyard route, although no increases were suggested for the passenger, excursion, freight, or the daily parking rates.
For vehicles under 20 feet in length, a $2 increase will be applied to one-way fares during the shoulder season, which is from April 1 to May 14 and Sept. 15 to Oct. 31. During the peak season, which is from May 15 to Sept. 14, a $9 increase will be applied from Monday to Thursday, while a $10 increase will be applied from Friday to Sunday.
The 10-ride automobile pass will see a $45 increase. Meanwhile, annual parking permits for the Woods Hole lot and the Palmer Avenue lot will see $75 and $50 increases, respectively.
Port Council Falmouth representative Robert Munier expressed some concern over raising vehicle rates. “I would hate to find that by increasing the auto rate, you continue to decrease its use as a revenue source, because it becomes that much more expensive,” he said.
Rozum replied that automobile travel on SSA ferries is expected to decrease next year, and come closer to pre-pandemic levels. He pointed out that most people wanted to stay inside their cars while riding the ferries during the COVID pandemic.
Lowell pointed out that more people have vehicles on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket than before, so the “summer car” situation has changed.
The SSA has seen an increase of 1,372 vehicles under 20 feet carried so far in 2023, compared with the same period last year on the Vineyard route.
After further discussion, the council members voted to recommend the rate adjustments to the SSA board, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, Sept. 26.