Boat Line Governors Approve Rate Hikes


Citing an unyielding trend of flat car and passenger traffic on
ferries to both Islands topped by the high cost of fuel, the Steamship
Authority board of governors voted yesterday to approve across-the-board
rate hikes aimed at collecting an additional $4 million in revenue next

Beginning Jan. 1 Vineyard residents of all stripes will pay more to
travel on boat line ferries. Nantucket residents will see a combination
of fare hikes and reduced service.

About $3.2 million will come from rate increases on the Vineyard
route, and $800,000 will come from increases on the Nantucket route.

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"Well, I'm not a fan of rate increases but if you read
the Boston newspapers you will see that every public transportation
agency is going through the same problem and a lot of it is because of
fuel costs," declared Nantucket governor Flint Ranney.

"It's long overdue and it's certainly
warranted," said Vineyard governor and board chairman Marc

"It's an extraordinary time we are living in. We must
address the issues that will allow us to operate in the future
successfully and put away dollars for things we need, like boats and
computer systems. I think we are very close to being on the right
track," said Falmouth governor Robert Marshall.

The remarks came just before the board voted 4-0 to approve the rate
increases at the monthly boat line meeting in Vineyard Haven yesterday
morning. The increases will be included in a $72 million operating
budget for the coming year, also approved yesterday.

Held in the Katharine Cornell Theatre, the meeting was attended by
about 50 people, including a handful of public officials. New Bedford
governor David Oliveira did not attend.

There was little discussion about the rate increases and budget,
partly because the boat line board held a working session in Hyannis
last Friday to review rates and cost allocation in fine detail.
Barnstable governor Robert O'Brien praised SSA general manager
Wayne Lamson and other senior managers yesterday for providing
worksheets and organizing the session.

Effective Jan. 1 fares will go up as follows on the Vineyard run:

* One-way passenger fares, from $5.50 to $6.

* One-way fares for children and senior citizens, from $2.75 to

* Off-season, round-trip excursion fares for ordinary cars,
from $39 to $45.

* Off-season, round-trip excursion fares for large cars, from
$59 to 65.

* Summer one-way fares for ordinary cars, from $57 to $62.

* Summer one-way fares for large cars, from $67 to $72.

Freight rates also will increase, and beginning March 1 summer
freight rates will go into effect year-round. Charges for trucks over
six and a half feet high will be eliminated.

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Also approved yesterday were a set of schedule changes for the
coming year. Although minor on the face of it, the schedule changes have
generated a good deal of discussion on the Vineyard in recent weeks. The
proposal calls for shifting two freight boat trips from Vineyard Haven
to Oak Bluffs, and for shifting an early evening trip on the ferry
Martha's Vineyard from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs during the
summer months.

SSA managers said the changes will ease traffic congestion at the
Vineyard Haven port by spreading out arrival times a bit, while the
three Tisbury selectmen, backed by downtown merchants, vocally protested
the changes. The heated debate cooled somewhat this week following two
meetings, one with Mr. Lamson and the selectmen, and another with Mr.
Hanover and members of the Tisbury Business Association.

The request from Tisbury to keep the 7:30 p.m. summer run of the
Martha's Vineyard remained unchanged, but in his presentation to
the board yesterday, Mr. Lamson quietly stood his ground in backing the
schedule changes as proposed.

"We did reconsider our position, but we have not received any
information that would persuade us to change our recommendation,"
he said, adding: "This is a period when traffic is all backed up
in Vineyard Haven."

The schedule changes were also approved by the boat line port
council two weeks ago.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel told governors yesterday that his
concerns center less on the changes and more on the fact that the town
was not included in the early discussions that led to them. "For
whatever reason, the communication between the Steamship Authority and
the town of Tisbury was not what it has been in the past. There needs to
be more preliminary discussion about these things, and our perspective
was totally lacking," Mr. Israel said.

Mr. Hanover extended the olive branch.

"I agree and I look forward to having better communication and
to working with you in the future," he told Mr. Israel.

Steve Perlman, president of the Tisbury Business Association, said
the loss of passengers from boat line ferries has hurt the town.

Citing SSA passenger statistics, Mr. Perlman said: "We have
had a total loss of 50,000 people coming into Vineyard Haven . . . that
is a substantial loss for our town."

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But Mr. Marshall said it is difficult to track consumer trends
precisely based on boat line schedules. "Maybe some of those
people aren't coming because they don't want to sit in
traffic at Five Corners," the Falmouth governor quipped.

Mr. Lamson responded to Mr. Perlman by sketching the larger picture,
noting that since 2002 the boat line has lost a total of 237,000
passengers. "So if Tisbury is down by 50,000, then there must be
even more of a decrease in Oak Bluffs," Mr. Lamson said.

William Deeble, a West Tisbury resident and shrewd analyst of boat
line affairs, steered the discussion in a different direction.

"I'm a West Tisbury resident, so I'm
neutral," Mr. Deeble began. He said having two ports for one
Island - one community, really - makes little or no sense,
and he encouraged the members of the boat line board to think about this
as they plan the future.

"What are the costs to the Steamship Authority to operate two
different ports, one of them seasonal, and what are the economies that
might be achieved by having one port for the whole Island?" Mr.
Deeble said. "It sounds shocking to hear, but it does not make
economic sense to have two ports for one community," he added.

In other business yesterday the board also heard a report from
director of engineering Carl Walker on the status of the Island Home,
the new ferry under construction at the V.T. Halter Shipyard in
Pascagoula, Miss. The shipyard was hit hard by hurricane Katrina, and
Mr. Walker said the cleanup effort has been slow but steady. He said
about 25 per cent of the workers have returned to the shipyard, and most
of the work is still directed at restoring the shipyard to a working
business. Housing is a critical problem and infrastructure repairs are
still a long way from completion, Mr. Walker said. But he said project
manager Ed Jackson is in residence again in Mississippi; Mr. Walker will
travel there himself next week to meet with Mr. Jackson and shipyard
owners about the ferry construction project.

Mr. Walker said he expects the completion date for the ferry to be
the fall of 2006 at the earliest, but he will know more after his trip.
He said the shipyard has a large parent company in Singapore and is
still financially stable.