In an attempt to lift passenger numbers, the Steamship Authority is expected to ease restrictions on the use of ten-ticket discount books when governors meet on Tuesday.
Car and passenger traffic on the Vineyard run was flat in 2006. Statistics for the year to Dec. 21 show a rise in overall passenger traffic of just 0.2 per cent, with a sharp decline in the summer numbers, which were down for June, July and August by 5.8, 1.3 and 0.1 per cent respectively.
Further suggesting a decline in the number of tourists using the boat line, car traffic was also down slightly for the year - by 0.9 per cent in the case of excursion tickets used by Island residents and 1.9 per cent for regular, full-fare tickets.
The good news for the SSA was in truck traffic, which was up 7.2 per cent for the year.
On the passenger traffic front, the authority is facing increasing competition from other boat lines and airlines, particularly on the longer Nantucket run, but also on the Vineyard, which is the major reason for reconsidering the rules restricting the use of multi-ticket discount books.
Currently ticket books are supposed to be used only by the person to whom the book is issued, meaning only one ticket can be used from the book per trip. A husband and wife, for example, traveling together, would have to have separate books if both were to take advantage of the discount fares.
The SSA now acknowledges that apart from being inconvenient, the rules were widely circumvented anyway. Coupons were regularly used by people other than those to whom the books were issued, something which boat line pursers found effectively impossible to police. And while the restriction on using more than one coupon per trip could be monitored by staff, it led to "unpleasant situations" with customers, SSA managers said.
"We're proposing to relax the restrictions to make the system more passenger friendly," said SSA general manager Wayne Lamson. "Our competitors, Hy Line [Cruises] and the airlines, allow transferable tickets."
It is understood the twin changes proposed by senior managers - making tickets transferable and allowing more than one coupon to be used per trip - have the support of the majority on the SSA board and will be approved on Tuesday.
The increased flexibility will, however, come at a cost to customers. Management is also proposing to increase the cost of a 10-ride book for the Vineyard trip from the current $52 to $55. This still will amount to a $1.50 discount per trip.
The rule changes will not apply to the other type of discount book - the 46-ride monthly commuter book.
Some 200,000 of the SSA discount tickets were used last year, for about 10 per cent of total passenger traffic.
The monthly meeting of the boat line governors begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Marine Biological Laboratories Candle House in Woods Hole. Free round-trip passage is available on the ferry for Islanders attending the meeting. Governors also are expected to consider, but not vote on, proposed minor scheduling changes.