Boat Line Fares Set to Go Up

Steamship Authority Governors Review $78 Million Budget; Managers Say Tariff Hike Needed to Cover Costs

Gazette Senior Writer

Passenger fares are expected to rise more than eight per cent on the Martha's Vineyard route under a set of across-the-board rate hikes proposed Tuesday by Steamship Authority managers.

For the second year in a row, Authority managers are requesting $4 million in rate increases, $3 million of which would be assessed to the Vineyard route and the remaining $1 million to the Nantucket route.

Among the proposed rate hikes: one-way passenger fares on the Vineyard route would rise 50 cents to $6.50, and the off-season round trip excursion car fare for Islanders will go up $7 to $52.

The $4 million rate hike is part of a proposed $78.3 million operating budget for the coming year outlined by boat line managers at Tuesday's boat line meeting at the Hyannis terminal. The budget is 8.5 per cent higher than this year's budget of $72.1 million.

Senior managers presented the proposed fare package and operating budget for consideration by SSA governors. The board is scheduled to vote on the actual fares and budget for next year at the Oct. 26 meeting in Vineyard Haven.

In other developments this week, the Authority's two new ferries - the passenger and car ferry Island Home and the high-speed ferry Iyanough - may be arriving weeks later than scheduled. Carl Walker, director of engineering, reported that the shipyards building the vessels are encountering delays.

Under a possible scenario, the Island Home, originally slated for delivery Nov. 29, might not appear until mid to late January. The Iyanough, scheduled for delivery in mid-November, may not arrive until early to mid-December.

But Falmouth governor and board chairman Robert Marshall emphasized that the contracted delivery dates on the vessels have not changed.

SSA general counsel Steven Sayers said the shipyards - VT Halter Inc. in Moss Point, Miss., which is building the Island Home, and Gladding-Hearn in Somerset, which is building the Iyanough - can be subject to penalties if they fail to deliver the vessels on time.

Following the conclusion of Tuesday's public session, governors went into executive session to discuss, among other matters, possible litigation concerning the delivery of the vessels.

As for next year's budget, higher depreciation, insurance and vessel fuel oil costs are leading Authority managers to anticipate the need for higher fares.

SSA treasurer Robert Davis anticipates operating costs will rise 4.9 per cent over the current year. Mr. Davis said he expects that depreciation costs will rise by $2.6 million or almost 50 per cent, based on the introduction of the Island Home and Iyanough ferries as well as other Authority capital projects. The boat line also anticipates that vessel fuel oil will cost nearly $900,000 more, an increase of some 15.7 per cent, and that employee health costs will increase by over $800,000, or 7.4 per cent.

And all these added costs come amid a trend of declining passenger and automobile traffic.

Mr. Davis said the boat line needs $4 million in rate increases to meet the Authority's operating expenses and to have enough money to meet debt service and fund the equipment replacement account.

Of the $3 million to be raised on the Vineyard route, $950,000 would come from passengers, $1.25 million from automobiles, $750,000 from trucks, and $50,000 from higher parking rates.

Authority managers have proposed raising one-way adult passenger fares from $6 to $6.50. With the 50-cent port embarkation fees charged by both Falmouth and the Vineyard ports of Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, the rate increase effectively translates into a $14 round-trip cost.

Boat line managers also have proposed raising the one-way child or senior citizen rate by 25 cents to $3.25; the 10-ride book by $4 to $52; and the 46-ride monthly commuter book by $10 to $120.

Round-trip excursion rates in the off-season would rise to $52 for vehicles under 17 feet, and to $72 for larger vehicles.

Summer excursion rates would increase by $10 to $83 for vehicles under 17 feet, and by $10 to $103 for larger vehicles.

One-way rates for vehicles are also scheduled to go up.

Commercial freight rates for trucks under 20 feet will increase the same as for automobiles, with trucks 20 feet or longer paying 8.5 per cent more.

The cost of an annual parking permit at Woods Hole would rise $50, to $800, and the annual permit at Palmer avenue would increase $25, to $575.

Of the $1 million to be raised on the Nantucket route, $300,000 would come from passengers, $150,000 from automobiles, $535,000 from trucks, $10,000 from barge unloading fees and $5,000 from higher parking rates.

The SSA does not plan to increase fares for the high-speed ferry on the Nantucket route, where the boat line is trying to win back market share from Hy-Line, a private company that also operates a high-speed ferry on that route. Including embarkation fees, the SSA charges $59 for a round trip on the fast ferry.