With everything from cost and size to lunch counters under consideration, the Steamship Authority this week continued a discussion about vessel replacement alternatives.
Meeting on the Vineyard Tuesday morning, the governors heard an update about plans to begin replacing some of the boat line fleet.
There are three different options on the table: a new single-ended, drive-through freight vessel, a vessel the size of the ferry Martha’s Vineyard, and a vessel the size of the Island Home. In May, SSA general manager Wayne Lamson told the Gazette that the boat line is looking at a replacement study of the nine vessels in the fleet.
The SSA is sketching a plan to replace a vessel every five years or so, and first up for replacement would be the freight ferry Governor.
The governors heard a brief financial and cost analysis of three vessel types being considered to replace the Governor: a “supersize” freight boat with the vehicle capacity of the Martha’s Vineyard with more flexibility to carry trucks and cars year-round; a Martha’s Vineyard type vessel that could carry more passengers, and an Island Home class vessel that can carry the most passengers but has the least flexibility.
Mr. Lamson said the boat line has looked at how potential new boats would be added to the schedule, and whether they would increase or decrease car and passenger capacity. Treasurer Robert Davis has looked at costs and revenues that would come from the alternatives. In some cases, he said, looking at the schedule was “eye opening,” as April and May trips to Nantucket are 96 per cent full, and boats to and from the Vineyard are about 87 per cent capacity in the summer.
Mr. Lamson said management will make a final recommendation at the August meeting.
The freight vessel, a new design, would hold roughly 50 cars and 400 passengers, and would have a vending machine for snacks. Design and construction for the boat would take 12 months each, and the design and construction cost would be $30 million. The new freight vessel could serve both routes, mostly transporting vehicles, and would have a slightly larger capacity that the Governor and provide year-round use.
The new freight vessel would have estimated incremental operating costs, including bond interest, of $3.92 million. Incremental operating revenues are estimated at $1.67 million.
A second, mid-range option would be a ferry comparable to the Martha’s Vineyard and the Nantucket. The vessel would have space for 50 cars and 800 passengers. Design would take 12 months and construction 15 months, with a price tag of $35 million. The ferry would have a lunch counter, and would carry both vehicles and passengers on both routes. The Martha’s Vineyard route would benefit from the larger vehicle deck and passenger capacity, the analysis said.
The last option would be a new vessel in the Island Home class, carrying 60 cars and 16 more on the lift deck as well as 1,200 passengers. Design would take six to nine months and construction 18 months. The price would be $52 million, with an estimated incremental operating cost, including bond interest, of $6.43 million.
Incremental operating revenue is estimated at $2.63 million. The boat would serve the Martha’s Vineyard route, and offers the largest vehicle deck and capacity.
Vineyard governor Marc Hanover inquired about the possibility of a Martha’s Vineyard class freight vessel with lift decks.
“The last time we tried that we built a vessel called the Eagle,” Mr. Lamson said. While lift decks come in handy, they also raise the profile of the ship. This makes it harder for the boat to dock in some ports during rough weather.
In other business, SSA traffic increased about 1.1 per cent compared to May 2013, with car traffic up about two per cent and truck traffic up by more than seven per cent.
Mr. Lamson said the boat line has a year-to-date net operating loss though May of $11.6 million, about $1.7 million higher than projections. He attributed the difference to unbudgeted repairs to the Oak Bluffs dock and the lift deck on the Island Home.
“Obviously that’s very concerning,” Mr. Hanover said, asking how the deficit could be offset.
Treasurer Robert Davis said deficits are usually made up in the summer months. In June, Mr. Davis noted, passenger traffic was up seven per cent on the Vineyard route and 1.3 per cent overall, and car and truck traffic was up as well. But with additional expenses, the SSA is about $2.1 million behind through June.
“I’d like to continue to watch the traffic through the summer,” Mr. Lamson said.
“We dug ourselves into a little hole that we seem to be climbing out of,” Mr. Davis said.
The governors authorized Mr. Lamson to award a contract for drydock and overhaul work on the Nantucket to the lowest bidder. Work on the Nantucket, scheduled to begin in September, includes machinery inspections, underwater hull cleaning and painting, freight deck steel replacement and sewage holding tank and piping modifications. Overhaul work was estimated at $283,000, but had been modified to $400,000, and work on the sewage holding tank and piping is estimated at $160,000.
The new Steamship Authority website has been launched, and is running in tandem with the existing site through the summer, Mr. Lamson said. Soon after Labor Day all web traffic will be directed to the new site. Mr. Lamson said 10 per cent of reservations are now being made through the new site.
The governors also approved winter and spring operating schedules from Jan. 2 through May 13, 2014. The winter schedule starts one day later and ends one day later, and the spring schedule starts four days later and ends two days earlier than in 2013.