SSA planning text-alert system improvements

Human error not the cause of ferry damage during storms.

People waiting in line hoping to get on a freight ferry after a passenger ferry was canceled. —Eunki Seonwoo

Updated April 19

The Steamship Authority (SSA) will be looking for potential improvements to how it alerts customers and staff about canceled trips, amid concerns that sometimes neither are being informed on a timely basis.

The ferry service has been looking at IT upgrades since last year — including for reporting delays and cancellations — after a consultant notified the Steamship that they were underinvesting in information technology. The most recent concerns stem from around three weeks ago, when strong waves and winds caused a series of delays and cancellations over several days.

SSA director of shoreside operations Allison Fletcher told the Port Council during a meeting earlier last week that there have been “some issues” releasing news information.

“We’re going through the different processes that we have to get information to our staff and to our customers,” she said. 

Fletcher said a lot of the recent reports came “very fast” and at the last minute due to the weather, particularly on March 25, when several ferries were canceled. For a 7 am trip, the updates did not reach ticket sellers on the Vineyard Haven side until after the Steamship started boarding customers.

“We do apologize for that,” she said, noting that customers and vehicles had to be unloaded. 

Fletcher added that work is underway to make email and text notifications systems more accessible, and particularly making them easier to read. 

Fletcher also noted that news of canceled or delayed trips needs to be relayed from staff at the ferry slips to the ticket offices faster. Staff at the ticket offices notify the wider public of cancellations. Fletcher said work was underway to get the programs on the computers at the terminal slips to be able to notify customers more quickly. 

Meanwhile, the SSA’s new website is anticipated to be activated this summer. Work is still underway for the website, with a beta version for the public anticipated to be ready in June. If successful, the Steamship’s existing website will be phased out within a couple of months of the launch of the new website. 

The new website has been a long time coming, experiencing multiple delays that resulted in spikes bringing the project cost to nearly $3 million.


No ‘human error’ for Woods Hole damage

Communications issues weren’t the only problems addressed at the recent Port Council meeting. 

SSA COO Mark Higgins said that it wasn’t “human error” that caused damage to the passenger ferry Woods Hole. 

Amid the cancellations and delays caused by bad weather, SSA director of marine operations Mark Admundsen said the Woods Hole suffered a cracked rub rail in March when docking in Vineyard Haven. 

The damage to the Woods Hole’s rub rail. —Courtesy SSA

The vessel also experienced damage to its side shell and hull. 

The Woods Hole’s damaged side shell. —Courtesy SSA
The Woods Hole’s damaged hull. —Courtesy SSA

Higgins said a video showed that the accident was caused by bad weather. “We did a review of the video to see how the vessel came in, and it looked like a normal docking getting into the slip,” he said. 

After being inspected, the Woods Hole was sent to Fairhaven for repair last month. It returned to service a week later. 

The Woods Hole’s rub rail being repaired. —Courtesy SSA
Repairs underway for the Woods Hole’s interior. —Courtesy SSA

When asked how much repair costs were, SSA general manager Bob Davis said the Woods Hole was fixed “in house,” so he did not have those numbers ready during the meeting. SSA spokesperson Geoff Spillane told the Times in an email on Thursday, April 18, the “direct labor cost was just under $17,000.”

The Times has requested the footage of the landing, and SSA communications director Sean Driscoll stated that the request was being considered a public records request. Driscoll said the SSA would provide the footage to the Times by April 25. 

Updated with the repair costs for the ferry Woods Hole.