Boat Line Figures Show Traffic to Island Up for July, August and Down for Year

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

Overall traffic on Steamship Authority ferries is either flat or down slightly for the year, but in fact peak-season summer traffic on ferries to the Vineyard - both passenger and automobile traffic - has been healthy.

Also, the patchwork of parking lots in Falmouth and Bourne that are used to service boat line ferries to the Vineyard were never completely filled this summer, raising some question about the recent statements by the boat line general manager about the need to shift passenger traffic to New Bedford.

Traffic statistics released by the boat line last week through the third week of August show that passenger traffic between Woods Hole and the Vineyard is down slightly for the first eight months of the year, compared with last year. A total of 1,497,831 passengers were carried on the Woods Hole run between Jan. 1 and August 21, a decrease of 5,586 from the previous year.

But passenger numbers for July and August alone show a slightly different story. In the month of July, the boat line carried 344,279 passengers on the Woods Hole run, an increase of 5,130, or 1.5 per cent over the previous year. In the first three weeks of August passenger totals were also up slightly on the Woods Hole run. Between August 1 and August 21, the boat line carried 246,157 passengers between Woods Hole and the Vineyard, an increase of 5,878, or 2.4 per cent.

The pattern is similar for car and truck traffic on the Vineyard run: Traffic is off slightly for the year, but up for July and August.

Car traffic to the Vineyard is down 1.6 per cent for the first eight months of the year, but car traffic between Woods Hole and the Vineyard was nearly flat in July (up .7 per cent), and it went up sharply in August (7.1 per cent) compared with last year.

"We started out slower earlier in the year, but then we started to regain some momentum. By most of the accounts that we hear around here, August has picked up," said SSA treasurer Wayne Lamson late last week.

Mr. Lamson will take over as acting general manager of the boat line in two weeks when general manager Armand Tiberio leaves to take another job.

Mr. Lamson said analyzing SSA traffic statistics for the Vineyard is somewhat challenging this year because of expanded service on the New Bedford run.

A seasonal pilot freight program between New Bedford and the Vineyard was extended by two months this year, and SSA passenger service between New Bedford and the Vineyard was added when the boat line bought the ferry Schamonchi.

Mr. Lamson said for this year it is useful to view the numbers for both the freight program and the Schamonchi separately, because when they are added to the overall boat line traffic statistics they create a misleading picture.

Overall, truck traffic to the Vineyard is nearly flat for the year (up .8 per cent) compared with last year, while truck traffic between Woods Hole and the Vineyard is off slightly (down .7 per cent).

Raw numbers are nearly impossible to compare with last year on the pilot freight program between New Bedford and the Vineyard, since the program began a month earlier this year. But Mr. Lamson said the program has seen a slight increase in truck traffic.

"We are seeing a little pickup in the numbers this year, but some of that is because we added pickup trucks to the boat," Mr. Lamson said.

The pilot freight program is in its second year of operation with Hvide Marine, a private carrier. The program ran for six months last year (from May through October), and it was extended to run for eight months this year (from April through November).

Mr. Tiberio has recommended running the program next year using a Steamship Authority freight boat and boat line personnel.

The Schamonchi passenger ferry also started out slowly during its first season under SSA management, in part because of a breakdown that put the boat out of service for the first week of June. The cause of the breakdown was a blown starboard engine.

Statistics released last week show that traffic on the Schamonchi saw some improvement in July and August.

A total of 24,010 passengers were carried on the Schamonchi through August 21, an increase of 1,130 or nearly two per cent.

Mr. Lamson said in July the Schamonchi carried 302 more passengers than last year (an increase of .9 per cent), and in August she carried 448 more passengers than last year (an increase of 1.9 per cent). A late (9 p.m.) trip on Fridays from new Bedford to the Vineyard has seen little use, and Mr. Lamson said the expenses are high in connection with the Friday night run because of overtime pay for crew and terminal staff.

Both the pilot freight program and the Schamonchi are expected to generate operating losses this year, but Mr. Lamson said he will not run the numbers until later.

"We will wait until the season is over to look at all the numbers, but the projections for next year will be much easier to develop. We know the manning requirements now and we have a pretty good idea of what things are going to cost," he said.

Boat line statistics released last week also show a downward trend in the use of the popular excursion fares for the year, but like the rest of the traffic, the numbers went up in the month of August.

For the first eight months of the year, excursion fares on ferries to the Vineyard were down 5.2 per cent compared with last year. But in July, excursion fares were up 5.7 per cent compared with last year, and in August, they were up 8.3 per cent.

The rules were changed this year for excursion fares, as boat line managers tried to eliminate abuses of the fares, originally designed as low-cost round-trip fares for year-round Island residents.

This year the rules were changed to create two tiers for Island resident profile numbers. One category is for residents who qualify for full benefits (preferred spaces and low-cost excursion fares), and the second category is for residents who qualify for partial benefits (preferred spaces but full fares as opposed to low-cost fares).

Mr. Lamson reported that the actual number of people with profile numbers is down this year.

In 2000 there were 18,196 people with profile numbers. This year the number is down to 15,294 - of which 11,388 are residents registered with profile numbers and full benefits, and 3,906 are residents registered with profile numbers and partial benefits.

Mr. Lamson also reported that SSA parking lots in Falmouth and Bourne were never filled this summer.

The boat line uses seven parking lots to accommodate cars on the Vineyard run, including a large lot in Woods Hole, plus five other lots in the town of Falmouth and one in Cataumet. The Cataumet lot and three of the Falmouth lots are leased; all other lots are owned by the SSA. Total parking capacity is 4,285.

Last year the only time all of the lots were filled was during the Fourth of July weekend, Mr. Lamson said. He said a check of records last week showed that there was no time this summer when the lots were completely filled.