Passengers May Stay in Vehicles on Ferry Crossing, Board Rules


The Steamship Authority board of governors overruled senior
management yesterday and abandoned a controversial new policy that would
have barred people from staying in their cars while on board the

The boat line governors instead approved a policy to simply advise
passengers to leave their cars and to improve safety below decks through
an expanded set of fire prevention measures.

In a separate vote, SSA governors approved a package of other safety
and security regulations aimed at bringing the boat line into compliance
with the new federal Maritime Transportation Security Act.

The debate at the regular monthly boat line meeting in Woods Hole
circled around ways to improve safety without implementing a strict rule
requiring passengers to leave their cars.

"After receiving a vast amount of input from our fire chiefs,
fire department members and Islanders who ride back and forth, I'm
left with a sense that to adopt this policy as it was conceived will
probably cause more problems than it will solve," said Vineyard
boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel.

The policy was slated to go into effect March 1, but was postponed
after a closed-door session at the regular boat line meeting in

For several months the policy has been subject to widespread
opposition by Islanders, who have long enjoyed the option of staying in
their cars. But despite the growing uproar among residents, Steamship
Authority management yesterday continued to press for the policy's
adoption as a matter of compliance with the law.

"As the board considers this, I would urge them to keep in
mind that safety is not policy. Compliance with federal laws is not a
policy issue," said SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin.
"We have relied on input from marine professionals and their views
were resolute."

Slated for discussion in executive session, the vote on the safety
and security rules was moved into the public portion of the meeting at
the urging of Ms. Roessel. The Vineyard governor also asked to consider
the freight deck policy apart from the other proposed regulations.

The revised policy passed by the board also calls for SSA employees
to man the freight deck at all times and for more room to be left
between cars.

In addition it includes a caveat that authorizes management to take
whatever measures it deems necessary to improve safety on the freight

Members of the Dukes County Commission and the boards of selectmen
in Tisbury and Oak Bluffs turned out in force to criticize the proposed
rule and reinforce the message of Islanders' resistance to the

The county commission and both boards of selectmen went on record as
opposing the policy.

"The Tisbury selectmen are staunchly opposed to this
proposal," declared board chairman Tristan Israel. "The
overwhelming majority of people on the Island oppose it. If the rule is
passed, it will do enormous damage to the image and credibility of the
Steamship Authority on Martha's Vineyard."

As part of her push for a compromise policy, Ms. Roessel recommended
doubling the number of SSA employees on watch below decks and altering
the way cars are parked; they often are packed so tightly that people
cannot squeeze out.

The discussion included other possible improvements to the freight
deck, such as the addition of surveillance cameras and an expanded
sprinkler system.

"Management came up with the notion that people should not be
on the freight deck for safety, and as a consequence we are talking
about sane, sensible safety regulations," said county commissioner
Robert Sawyer. "We will be infinitely safer if we have able-bodied
people down there to observe, raise the alarm and help others."

As the debate continued, the Vineyard and Nantucket boat line
governors differed sharply from Mr. Raskin on the nuances of the issue.

Nantucket governor Grace Grossman read a letter into the record from
her board of selectmen, calling the proposal "a hardship and a
serious and unnecessary inconvenience."

"It doesn't matter if people stay in their cars as long
as the proper [safety regulations] are in place," said Mrs.

"It feels like we're a penal colony and management is
the warden and we are constantly being told what we can and cannot
do," she said. "This is a hospitality organization, and
sometimes there is nothing positive in the announcement except
‘Have a nice trip' at the end."

Mr. Raskin expressed empathy for travelers who want to stay in their
cars after a long drive, but painted a picture of what would happen if a
fire broke out on the freight deck.

"The smoke would cause a problem more than the fire. People
should not have to be checking 50 cars to see if they have occupants
when they should be doing other things, like fighting the fire,"
Mr. Raskin said.

Falmouth governor Robert Marshall asked for clarity on the Coast
Guard's position.

"What the Coast Guard regulation says is people must be able
to get out and away from their cars freely in an emergency. We have been
very guilty in the past of not ensuring this is so," said Ms.

"The preexisting [Coast Guard] regulation deals with safety,
but more recent regulations deal with security and are more specific
about limiting access to certain areas . . . in discussions with me the
Coast Guard has evidenced a clear and unyielding preference to get
people off the freight deck," said Mr. Raskin.

"You get nothing from getting people off the freight deck
unless you can get everybody off the freight deck," said Ms.
Roessel. "In the situation where some people are exempt from this
rule, you have done nothing except create a stampede of people up and
down the stairs two times every trip."

"We would do better to get as many people off the freight deck
as possible. It would still be a marginal improvement," said Mr.

The board of governors divided on the vote, with Ms. Roessel, Mr.
Marshall and New Bedford governor David Oliveira voting for the motion
to advise passengers to leave their cars.

Barnstable governor and board chairman Robert O'Brien voted
against that policy, and Mrs. Grossman abstained, saying she thought the
decision should be left to the discretion of the traveler and not
included as an announcement over the loudspeaker.

The five rules that were passed as a package were drafted by Thomas
Creighton, a former state police lieutenant who was recently hired as
the director of security for the boat line.

Rules under the new policy include:

* Travelers must arrive at least 30 minutes prior to scheduled
departure to guarantee that vehicle reservations are honored.

* Only baggage carried by ticketed passengers will be allowed
on the luggage carts.

* Passengers will be checked for identification on a random

Mrs. Grossman addressed the 30-minute rule, pointing out that
travelers could run into traffic delays or accident tie-ups that would
delay their arrival.

Mr. Raskin acknowledged the need for flexibility, but added that
general guidelines will prevent a rush of travelers arriving just before
the boat's departure.

Mr. Raskin said the new rules will go in effect by May 1.

At the meeting's end Mr. Raskin emphasized that the
recommendation to go above decks should not be taken lightly: "If
Islanders see this as a green light to stay in their cars, then the
wrong standard has been adopted."