The Steamship Authority is set to hit travelers to and from the Vineyard with fare increases totaling more than $1 million next year.
Boat line management proposed the fare hikes on the Vineyard route, as well as increases of $1.5 million on the Nantucket route, as part of the 2011 draft budget at this week’s meeting of the SSA governors on Nantucket.
Increased revenue was considered necessary to meet an expected increase of $2.4 million, or around 3.1 per cent, in operating expenses next year. Fuel costs and maintenance expenses are major drivers of the cost increase. Fuel is expected to go up by 9.9 per cent. And maintenance is projected to increase 3.6 per cent.
On the Vineyard route almost all of the $1.05 million in additional revenue would come in the form of increased passenger fares. The cost of a one-way adult fare would rise from $7 to $7.50, with corresponding increases in all the discounted passenger fares. The rate for bicycles, surfboards and sailboards would be increased from $3 to $4.
The excursion rate for cars would rise by $2 per round trip, reflecting an extra 50 cents each way for each of two adult passengers.
The Vineyard escaped relatively lightly. The proposed increases for Nantucket are more wide-ranging and steep. Standard passenger fares would go up $1; car rates would go up $10 per one-way trip, and parking rates also would rise.
The draft budget was presented for consideration only. A vote is expected at the next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 26.
In making the budget projections, SSA treasurer and comptroller Bob Davis assumed little increase in patronage for 2011. Without the fare increases, operating revenues are projected at $81.35 million, just 0.6 per cent above 2010 and well below the 3.1 per cent cost increase.
In order to achieve a sufficient net operating income of $3.44 million — the amount needed to meet its debt servicing costs and make the necessary transfers to its replacement fund — management figures it needs to find an extra $2.55 million through the fare rises.
Thus revenue would increase by 3.1 per cent, exactly in line with costs.
The SSA has not increased fares for more than two years, since May 2008, when skyrocketing fuel prices forced increases which had not been expected in that year’s budget.
Since then, fuel costs have fallen, and the boat line has taken the precaution of hedging against such sudden price jumps. It also has taken other steps to control costs, rationalizing services with the aim of running fuller boats and even requiring captains to drive more slowly so as to cut fuel use.
A further indication that the SSA does not expect much change in traveler numbers in 2011 was contained in the draft operating schedules for next summer and fall, which differ little from those of this year.
One 10:15 p.m. freight trip from Vineyard Haven — the last of the night — will be replaced with a 6:15 a.m. one, a move aimed at getting more trucks off-Island early in the day, thereby freeing up space on other morning trips for cars.
In other business at their monthly meeting, SSA governors awarded a number of contracts, the most significant being for new passenger platforms, ramps and hydraulic gangways at four terminals, Woods Hole, Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Nantucket, for $725,000.
And the board proposed a customer feedback form, which it is hoped will be available on the SSA Web site by the end of the month. Boat line general manager Wayne Lamson promised every suggestion, comment or complaint would be read and then forwarded to the appropriate department for review and response.
A summary of the feedback also would be prepared each month, he said.