I’m here to give you an update on the Steamship Authority at the end of a very busy summer. Through August 2022, 11,406 trips out of 11,677 scheduled and available have been operated on the Vineyard route – with just 0.46% of those trips canceled for mechanical reasons, or just 4.6 trips per thousand.
This year until August, 54 trips were canceled for mechanical reasons and 116 for weather reasons. Given the well-documented problems of the transport industry in the time of Covid-19 – look at the airlines, the MBTA and other ferry systems across the country – the SSA has, on the whole, rather worked well.
There are specific areas that need improvement, and I spoke to them at length during the review of the General Manager by members and the Harbor Board. As I said then, the SSA needs improvements in the way it communicates with the traveling public and the way the SSA communicates internally. The SSA must also continue to focus on maintenance, on its punctuality and on its management of the reservation system. I said then, as I have for 2.5 years and I repeat now, that decision-making is too centralized at the CEO level and that a Chief Executive Officer (COO) is needed. Luckily, the Steamship Authority has 10 candidates for the position and is holding interviews.
Because of these issues, I gave the CEO the second-lowest rating of the five board members. Vineyard harbor board members John Cahill and Joe Sollitto rated it similarly.
The position of Director of Marine Operations was recommended in the HMS Consultation Report. Members of the Board of Directors and Port Council encouraged the stocking of spares and the retrofitting of existing vessels with similar systems and components. We supported increased preventive maintenance. We believe that the authority should expand the list of items covered by preventive maintenance work on ships and docks, and that spare parts should be placed closer to terminals.
Maintenance is a particular challenge since no two ships are the same, and there’s a reason for that: The Vineyard wants ships with drive-through service, such as M/V Martha’s Vineyard, M/ V Woods Hole, the M/V Island Home, and the M/V Governor. Nantucket, meanwhile, wants single-enders as these are believed to be more efficient on long trips. By supporting both routes, stocking spare parts has become more difficult.
Additionally, in an effort to reduce costs, the SSA has often purchased used vessels and converted them for our routes. A prime example is our vessel, the M/V Governor, which was purchased from the Coast Guard for $1. A new double ender today would cost around $90 million. Thus, by saving money on the purchase of ships, maintenance became more difficult. The two new ships are sister ships, and if grant money is available, there are additional sister ships available for purchase. These vessels were selected for a number of criteria, one of which is their ability to be fitted with alternative fuel sources.
Regarding delays and cancellations, I have received many complaints about ships not leaving on time and the rate of cancellations. These questions are real concerns. That said, the cancellation rate for SSA is well below 5%, which is the industry standard. John Cahill, Joe Sollitto and I should be notified whenever a ship is canceled or delayed. That said, the SSA is dealing with a reservation system that the SSA says requires active management and work. He’s looking to find a ‘call back’ system so people don’t have to stay on hold with the reservation desk.
Since last summer, the SSA has reviewed the number of spaces reserved for Island residents, sent information brochures as inserts to Islanders and published fact sheets clarifying the policies and process. reservation. One issue that MV reps constantly bring up is the mystifying situation of no available spaces displayed for trips on the website and then spaces are available on the boats when they depart. The SSA continues to address this issue, and this is in part due to vehicles leaving boats earlier (either making earlier trips and/or not showing up), making available space more close to departure time and compounding the impact when the space reserved for trucks is not used and this space for three cars is now empty. It is confusing and distressing for islanders who depend on boats to get from the mainland.
The Vineyard is represented by a team: myself and the Port Council members of Oak Bluffs and Tisbury. We are in frequent communication and always try to speak with one Vineyard voice. I encourage interested Islanders to join the Port Council and Board of Directors Zoom meetings to learn and follow the process and issues facing the Steamship Authority.
Jim Malkin is a resident of Chilmark and represents Martha’s Vineyard on the Board of Governors of the Steamship Authority.