SSA Governing Board Postpones Its Decision On New Security Rules


Gazette Senior Writer

Under heavy fire from the people of the Vineyard over a new policy
that will bar people from staying in their cars on board ferries, a
fractured Steamship Authority board of governors yesterday postponed any
decision on the policy for one more month.

After a closed-door session at the regular monthly boat line meeting
in Woods Hole yesterday, the eventual fate of the new policy, crafted
under the guise of new security regulations for the SSA, was at best

The policy was slated to take effect on Monday.

"There won't be any change in policy on March 1," said SSA marketing
and public relations spokesman Paula Peters yesterday afternoon. "Fred
[SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin] is taking into
consideration the feelings of the board and the people at the meeting,
but he is also very firm about management's role in following the
guidelines that have been set forth by the Maritime Transportation
Security Act and what is required by the Coast Guard," she added.

The new policy was the subject of discussion both at the public
portion of the SSA meeting and also later in executive session.

First unveiled last month, the policy has caused a considerable stir
among Vineyard residents, who have long enjoyed the choice of whether to
stay in their car belowdecks, or go up to the mezzanine deck while
traveling on the ferry between the Island and Woods Hole.

"I've never received more phone calls on any issue," said Vineyard
boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel, who rankled senior managers by
putting the policy on the table for discussion during the new business
portion of the agenda.

"I can't remember hearing from more people on the Vineyard about an
issue than this," agreed Dukes County commissioner Robert Sawyer.

Among other things the county commission submitted a letter to the
board yesterday opposing the new policy.

"I think your plan needs to be reevaluated," said county manager E.
Winn Davis. "We transport prisoners on the ferry - do you want prisoners
in handcuffs upstairs walking around on the mezzanine deck? I don't
think so," he said.

The policy was originally slated for discussion only in executive
session, but Ms. Roessel said public comment was appropriate because the
policy had more to do with safety than security.

Mr. Raskin defended the policy, calling it an important new safety
measure for the boat line. "The freight deck is a fire zone," he said,
painting a vivid picture of cars whose tanks are filled with gasoline
sitting atop an engine room that is filled with diesel fuel and other

"This is not where professionals like to see passengers resting,"
Mr. Raskin said, pointing for emphasis to the deadly nightclub fire in
Rhode Island that made headlines across the country a little over a year

Mr. Raskin said he had some empathy for people who like to stay in
their cars. "We understand the very substantial change that our
customers tell us this will bring. . . . When I go over to the Vineyard
in my car, I typically stay in my car," he said. The CEO said he, too,
had been hearing from Vineyard people about the proposed new policy.

"Most of the e-mails have been fine, raising good points," he said.
But he said he was nonplused at one e-mail he received from a woman who
said she routinely travels on the 6 a.m. ferry as a commuter, and likes
to sleep in her car before tackling a highway drive to work. Mr. Raskin
shook his head slightly at the prospect. "We don't want someone sleeping
in their car on the freight deck, even if there isn't a problem," he

Mr. Raskin said management had done some research to explore the
policies on other ferries. He said ferries in Long Island Sound require
people to get out of their cars, while the Washington state ferry system
encourages people to leave their cars but does not make it a

The discussion strayed to other safety issues on the freight deck,
including the problem that occurs when cars are parked so tightly that
the occupants have difficulty getting in and out.

Mr. Raskin said the new policy barring people from staying in their
cars would not apply to people who are handicapped or people with
medical problems.

This led to more discussion about how the boat line defines a
medical problem. There were no clear answers.

In an undisguised jab at management, Flint Ranney, a member of the
SSA port council from Nantucket, suggested that having people belowdecks
in the event of a fire could be an asset. "If a car catches fire on the
freight deck it might be better to have people around to see it because
the crew is never around," Mr. Ranney said.

Tense relations between Nantucket and boat line management were a
distinct undertone at the meeting. Last month the people of Nantucket
voted overwhelmingly to launch a formal study of whether to break apart
from the 44-year-old boat line which has been the lifeline to the two

Taut relations between the board and management were also in
evidence yesterday.

"If we accept the notion that this is a safety issue and not a
security issue, is this a board decision as a policy?" asked Mr. Sawyer,
the county commissioner.

"I believe it is," said Nantucket governor Grace Grossman. "So do
I," said Barnstable governor and board chairman Robert O'Brien. "So do
I," said Ms. Roessel.

"I differ with the board," Mr. Raskin returned.

In the end public discussion on the new security policy was cut
short and the board said the discussion would continue in executive

Later in the day after the closed-door session, Ms. Peters reported
the scant details. "I don't know what was discussed, but I know that
there was intense discussion about this particular issue, and a decision
will be made by management, which Fred expects to share with the board
prior to the next meeting," Ms. Peters said.

"He is formulating a response to both what the Islanders brought to
the meeting today and to the feelings of the Island representatives, and
that response will be management's final decision on this. Can the board
then vote to change that? I think they can, although it will remain to
be seen if they will. The feeling I got from Fred was that they were
coming to common ground on this," Ms. Peters said.

"I think the board has a better understanding of the situation and
they've asked Fred to develop guidelines as to how it will be
implemented," said boat line general counsel Steven Sayers. "But the
final decision rests with the board," he added.

In other business yesterday, the board also: * Postponed action on
another policy question over whether to allow dogs on the Flying Cloud,
the high-speed passenger ferry that operates on the Nantucket run. Dogs
are currently not allowed on the Flying Cloud. Mrs. Grossman said she
wants to conduct a newspaper poll to get a sense of opinion from
Nantucketers before deciding the matter.

* Voted to allow management to sign a contract with a private
operator to run two conventional ferries next summer in place of the
passenger ferry Schamonchi. The company is the same group that will run
a high-speed passenger ferry between New Bedford and Oak Bluffs. The
contract to convert the Schamonchi to a private route is still subject
to approval by the state auditor; Mr. Sayers said state officials have
been in Woods Hole reviewing the deal for compliance with the Pacheco
Act, the state privatization law.

"We're having actually quite a good time with them while they are
here," he said.