SSA Traffic Slips

Early summer passenger traffic on the Steamship Authority's newly acquired New Bedford ferry Schamonchi is down compared with last year, even though the boat line has launched an advertising program to boost ridership on the ferry.

"We're off," said boat line treasurer Wayne Lamson yesterday.

Passenger traffic on the Schamonchi is down 18.6 per cent for the month of June compared with last year, but Mr. Lamson said about half of the loss in passengers can be traced to a breakdown that took the boat out of service for most of the first week in June.

Engine failure was the cause of the breakdown.

Last summer, under previous ownership, the Schamonchi carried 13,596 passengers in the month of June. This year during the same period and under new ownership by the SSA, the Schamonchi carried 11,062 passengers.

The ferry was out of service from June 2 until June 8 when the starboard engine failed.

Mr. Lamson said yesterday that 87 passengers were carried on the Schamonchi in the first week of June compared with 1,381 passengers carried in the same week last year. Subtracting for the approximate 1,294 passengers that could have been carried on the Schamonchi, Mr. Lamson said the numbers still end up down for the month.

The boat line bought the Schamonchi from owner Janet Thompson in January of this year for $1.6 million. The ferry operation is expected to lose between $600,000 and $900,000 this summer. The SSA has launched an aggressive advertising program to promote the Schamonchi including billboard, radio and newspaper advertising. There are also now plans on deck to replace the Schamonchi with a high-speed passenger ferry.

The Schamonchi runs between New Bedford and Oak Bluffs.

Meanwhile, boat line traffic statistics released yesterday show that overall passenger traffic is up, car traffic is about the same and truck traffic is down a pinch.

A total of 268,319 passengers were carried on SSA ferries through June 30, compared with 260,111 passengers carried in the same period last year.

But Mr. Lamson said the overall numbers are somewhat misleading because of the addition of the ferry Schamonchi to the fleet. "If you look at the 11,062 passengers carried on the Schamonchi and you look at the fact that overall passenger traffic is up 8,208 — then for the sake of real comparison [with last year], passenger traffic is off by 2,860, or 1.1 per cent," he said.

Total car traffic to both Islands is up just over one per cent, and total truck traffic is down by 45 trucks or 0.6 per cent.

Mr. Lamson said passenger traffic to Nantucket is up — both on the high-speed passenger ferry and the traditional ferry that runs between Hyannis and Nantucket.

He also said it is important to consider Saturdays when comparing traffic this year with last year. "You have to look at where the weekend falls. You have five Saturdays [in June] this year versus four last year, so it may be that we were down even more. It was camouflaged somewhat by having the additional weekend," Mr. Lamson said.

Saturdays are traditionally heavy travel days on boat line ferries.

Traffic statistics are not complete for the Fourth of July holiday, but Mr. Lamson did say that the boat line parking lots in Falmouth were not completely filled during the weekend before the holiday. The lots were filled during this last weekend, he said.

Mr. Lamson said freight traffic between New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard has increased slightly this year on the private carrier Seabulk Minnesota.

Overall numbers are misleading because the pilot freight program started a month earlier this year, but Mr. Lamson said a comparison of the weekly and daily numbers in June shows that the Seabulk carried an average of about 100 trucks a week compared with about 80 trucks a week during the same period last year. That breaks down to about 18 trucks a day compared with about 14 trucks a day last year, Mr. Lamson said.

He said he expects truck traffic on the New Bedford freight run to increase again in August and then to drop in September, October and November.

The pilot program is in its second year of operation; this year the program was extended to run from April through November, instead of from May through October.

The program was also altered this year to allow the transport of pickup trucks; last year the program was limited to trucks over 20 feet in length.

Last year the boat line lost about $1.2 million on the freight program.