The popular low-cost excursion fares for Vineyard residents on Steamship Authority ferries are now slated for major change, if a proposal by boat line managers is approved next month.
Proposed fare hikes for the coming year were included in a thick packet of material circulated at the monthly meeting of the SSA governors last week, although any discussion on the fare increases was put off after the board voted to adopt a new cost allocation policy for the coming year. Boat line treasurer and acting general manager Wayne Lamson said the new policy will trigger some change in the way the proposed fare increases are distributed.
But if the proposal remains even close to its present form, more than half the fare increase on the Vineyard route will come out of the pockets of year-round Island residents.
The rate hike proposal calls for a $3 million fare increase overall, with $1.425 million coming from fare increases on the Vineyard run and $1.575 million coming from the Nantucket run.
Mr. Lamson has proposed changing the terms of the excursion fare by including only the car and the driver in the fare. Additional passengers would be required to pay separate fares. Currently the excursion fare includes two adults and two children.
The proposed changes in the excursion fares are expected to net the SSA some $725,000 of the $1.4 million on the Vineyard run. The rate hike proposal also calls for increasing the regular one-way auto rates by $2 and increasing truck rates $2.
The same changes in the excursion fares are also proposed for the Nantucket run.
Excursion fares have been the subject of growing discussion in recent years as the use of the fares has increased, and boat line managers have raised concerns about the discount fares eating into revenues. In past years the two Island SSA governors have been staunch defenders of the excursion fares, which were originally designed to provide low-cost, round-trip travel for year-round residents.
This year the rules were tightened up in an effort to cut down on use of the fares by people who were not permanent Island residents.
At the meeting last week, Vineyard boat line governor J.B. Riggs Parker did not say directly whether he will support the changes to the excursion fares. "We are going to need to have some kind of fare increase," Mr. Parker said.
Nantucket governor Grace Grossman said she is against the change.
"I am against it because I feel that Island people - that's the one thing we have helped them with. I feel very strongly that the residents of both Islands should be able to save money on their trips," Mrs. Grossman said after the meeting.
In other business, SSA governors fielded questions about security on SSA ferries in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Can you please address what is in place on the ferries for the security of the public?" said Lorna Andrade, a spokesman for the Martha's Vineyard League of Women Voters who attended the meeting.
Mr. Parker said security measures were slated for discussion in executive session. "Security measures are best when they are not known," he said.
Yesterday Mr. Lamson said the boat line is in the process of re-evaluating its security on all the ferries. He said the boat line has reinstated the practice of using luggage carts on the boats.
The boat line meeting last week also saw a brief outburst from New Bedford city solicitor George Leontire, who lashed out at Nantucket board members for cautionary statements they had made earlier in the meeting about the wisdom of establishing a third port in New Bedford.
"We don't exist in your mind, sir, and we don't exist in Grace's mind," Mr. Leontire told SSA financial advisory board member Steve Tornovish and board member Mrs. Grossman. "We are being held hostage - well, let me tell you something. New Bedford can be a very good friend, but we are not going to be ignored," said Mr. Leontire.
In the last two years, Mr. Leontire has become known for his angry outbursts at boat line meetings.
But last week saw an unusual twist when Nantucket town counsel Paul R. DeRensis registered his objection to Mr. Leontire's tactics and called on Mr. Parker, the board chairman, to exercise better control over the meetings. The Boston attorney said he was attending the meeting on behalf of the selectmen and people of Nantucket.
"We do want to object to any effort by anyone attending this meeting to bully this board and speak intemperately to this board," said Mr. DeRensis. "There was some behavior here which we would ask the chairman of the board to control in the future," Mr. DeRensis said. He did not mention Mr. Leontire by name, but Mr. Leontire responded to the comments.
"This is a public meeting and there is something called free speech. That is what this country is about and it's my right to speak. Never silence me sir, you will never silence me," Mr. Leontire said.
"We have no objection to any voice being heard, but we do object to efforts to bully any member of the board - and that is why I am here today," Mr. DeRensis replied.