With a collective sigh, Steamship Authority governors unanimously approved a set of sweeping, across-the-board rate hikes Tuesday, inking steep increases on summer automobile fares and the first passenger fare increase in five years at their meeting.

“Nobody likes rate increases,” Nantucket governor Robert Ranney said. “But sometimes you have to bite the bullet.”

The rate increases, proposed two months ago and thoroughly aired with the public, are part and parcel of the boat line’s $112 million 2021 operating budget, which was also unanimously approved at Tuesday’s meeting.

Unlike years past, the operating budget proposed for 2021 assumed passenger traffic on the ferry anticipates a 10 per cent hit due to the ongoing pandemic, with the rate hikes expected to make up for the lost revenue. The budget assumes automobile traffic would remain at 100 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels.

Along with a stiff increase in peak summer vehicle pricing, the rate hikes include smaller increases on regular vehicle fares, excursion rate fares, parking prices and commuter books. They also include a $1 one-way increase for passenger fares, which will go up from $8 to $9 as of Jan. 4.

The SSA is one of the only farebox-operated transportation services in the country, funding almost its entire operating budget from ticket sales.

After plummeting at the onset of the pandemic, traffic levels have since stabilized, with passengers at about 85 per cent of their pre-pandemic numbers and automobile traffic exceeding expectations, SSA senior managers said Tuesday.

The decline in passenger traffic, however, has prompted the board of governors to approach the proposed rate hikes with a mixture of conciliatory reluctance and understanding of the situation at hand.

After two sparsely-attended public forums last week, SSA treasurer Mark Rozum presented the proposed budget and subsequent rate hikes near the end of the two-and-a-half-hour monthly meeting Tuesday.

Before the vote, governors held brief discussion regarding alternatives to the rate hikes or further cost-cutting measures, determining that using smaller boats or raising fares more incrementally would be untenable considering the fiscal circumstances. Mr. Rozum said adding Thursday to peak pricing levels would negatively affect standby opportunities for Islanders, and general manager Bob Davis said the boat line has generally done its best to save on fuel, salary and maintenance expenses in lieu of rate increases.

Governors largely agreed, voting to approving the budget and rate hikes.

“We need to provide the service, and unfortunately, the costs of providing that are what they are,” Mr. Ranney said. “We’ve tried to cut what we could, and we’re left with this. I don’t see another way around it.”

Vineyard governor James Malkin echoed Mr. Ranney, voting “reluctantly” to approve the budget and rate hikes — doing so, as he said, with an “audible sigh.” Mr. Malkin also said rate increases merited discussion down the road.

“Clearly, over time, our increases have exceeded inflation,” said the Vineyard governor, who was appointed to the board nine months ago. “I do think that it speaks to the need going forward to be very careful of our capital projects and our change orders in terms of how we proceed going ahead. But this is where we are now, and it speaks to the current situation, which of course, is completely wrapped up in this Covid mess.”

The rate increases mark the third significant fare hike in as many years, and the first increase in passenger fares since 2015.

In other business Tuesday, governors approved a $286,000 change order from contractor Jay Cashman for the Woods Hole terminal reconstruction project. The change order involves the bulkhead on the western edge of the terminal, which needed redesign after contractors discovered underwater obstructions for the sheet metal.

Governors also lamented the loss of the two longtime Vineyard representatives, George Balco and Robert Huss, on the port council. Both Mr. Huss and Mr. Balco announced at last week’s port council meeting that they would not be seeking future terms on the six-member council, which functions largely as a financial oversight body for the governing board.

Port council members are appointed by port town select boards.

Governors Moira Tierney, Robert Jones, Robert Ranney and Mr. Malkin — who said he was “blindsided” by the decision — all spoke extensively about the work of Mr. Balco and Mr. Huss, thanking them for their service.

“It’s a huge loss for us,” Ms. Tierney said. “They gave us a lot of service for a long time.”

The complete list of rate hikes follows:

• $4 to $6 one-way increases in standard fare for vehicles under 20 feet in length, depending on the season.

• $15 one-way increase in peak summer (Friday through Sunday, May through September) fare for vehicles under 20 feet in length.

• $2.50 to $3.50 increase in excursion fares.

• Seven per cent rate increase for all vehicles over 20 feet in length, including trucks.

• $1 increase in one-way passenger fare.

• $8 increase in 10-ride commuter book.

• $17 increase in 46-ride commuter book.

• $50 increase in annual parking permit ($25 increase in seasonal parking permit).