If there is an incontrovertible perennial punching bag on our Island it is of course the SSA. Everyone has an opinion and at least one gripe. That churning cauldron of criticism, some of it justified, is also a measure of how dependent we all are on our lifeline, as many have described it, on the service it provides us every day, all year.

The recent pearl-clutching over the inevitable Covid-caused fare increases planned for next year is no great surprise, but neither should the increases themselves be a surprise given the financial turmoil caused by the pandemic. Every transportation system dependent on user-fares for revenue has been hurt badly in our own “annus-horribilis”, as Queen Elizabeth II described 1992. No one will likely be sad to see 2020, and all its horrors, behind us. Unfortunately, at this point it isn’t clear whether 2021 will be dramatically better for the SSA, the pandemic, or politically.

Some well known facts, and reports from the SSA governing board follow:

• The SSA cannot print money. It operates on its user-fare revenues without government subsidy, at least it has until now.

• Tourists, especially walk-on passengers, provide much of the SSA’s profitability.

• Islanders and seniors get a privileged fare rate, which is a 75 per cent discount from standard fares.

The level of year-round service we have come to expect is dependent on the surpluses generated during the tourist season, and not user fares during the off-season. Without the profitability of passengers and vehicles during the summer season, the SSA would operate at a loss. The SSA typically loses money every October through April. For those who say the SSA should be strictly a business, it’s worth noting that a strictly commercial operation would provide either very little or no service during the annual October-April time period, and would charge huge fares for travel.

The boat line mandate is to provide dependable, safe, service to meet the needs of the Islands year-round. Boat maintenance has to be a major line item in its budget. Meeting or generating tourist demand is not a mandate.

Legitimate concerns about the flood of summer vehicles clogging our charming rural roads, and the SSA’s advertising budget meant to increase the level of tourism have to be balanced against the financial realities of operating a very complex service business. What that balance should be is why everyone has an opinion and a gripe. But fare increases/service level changes after a dramatic drop in revenue are not an avoidable or irrational response to changing conditions.

We do basically choose to live here, and the SSA is a fundamental reality accompanying our choices. Criticize the SSA if we must, and sometimes we must, but the financial impacts on it of the pandemic cannot be ignored, and expecting others to pay our way, other than in emergencies as in this year, isn’t reasonable or realistic.

Richard Knabel live in West Tisbury.