SSA Ferry Plan Absent Money
Plan on New Bedford Fast Ferry from Departed General Manager Carries No Financial Figures Report Requires More Work
By JULIA WELLS
Last week's report calling for high-speed ferry service between New Bedford and the Vineyard was submitted without any financial information, and the acting general manager of the Steamship Authority said yesterday that he will now have to step in to finish the crucial financial piece of the report.
"I am going to have to complete that. We are in the process of getting charter rates for vessels that may be available. I thought that was going to be included in the report, but it wasn't," said SSA acting general manager Wayne Lamson yesterday.
The much-anticipated feasibility report was released by outgoing general manager Armand Tiberio last week, two days before he left the top post at the boat line to take another job.
Mr. Lamson, who is also the boat line treasurer and has worked for the SSA for some 30 years, had his first day on the job as acting general manager yesterday.
Mr. Lamson said Mr. Tiberio's feasibility report on high-speed ferry service is incomplete without the financial information.
The 20-page report is framed in vague language and is centered mainly around the availability of high-speed ferries for lease. Mr. Tiberio found two companies with ferries available for charter, although his report includes no information about the cost of leasing them.
The report also includes a summary of a passenger survey conducted recently on board Vineyard-bound ferries. The results of the survey were mixed, and the quick-hit survey drew criticism from Vineyard officials recently when it was revealed that it was framed in language that appeared to promote the high-speed ferry service.
Despite the fact that his report includes no information about whether the ferry project is financially feasible for the boat line, Mr. Tiberio concluded that the project could be ready to go by May of next year.
"While there are certain challenges facing the Authority at this time, there do not appear to be any operational or logistical issues that cannot be resolved by the Authority in time to meet the May 1, 2002 startup date. . . . With a sufficient allocation of resources it is feasible that this demonstration project can be planned, organized and executed in a timely and successful manner," Mr. Tiberio wrote.
Mr. Lamson said yesterday that he has been in contact with the two ferry companies mentioned by Mr. Tiberio to obtain a fee proposal.
"We do not know what they want to charge, and we are working to get that information before the next board meeting," said Mr. Lamson, who has filled the role of acting general manager twice in the last 15 years.
Funding for the high-speed ferry project - both long-term and short-term - is a central issue for the boat line.
In one section of his report, Mr. Tiberio refers to a capital grant request that the SSA has filed with the state Executive Office of Transportation and Construction (EOTC) "to offset future Authority capital projects." In the report Mr. Tiberio writes: "If successful, funds received from the state would allow other capital funds to be reallocated to other important vessel or terminal capital projects."
In fact, the EOTC grant referenced by Mr. Tiberio has a specific purpose entirely unrelated to the high-speed ferry project: to defray design and engineering costs for the replacement of the ferry Islander.
The EOTC request was made by Mr. Tiberio on August 31.
"This request is for design and engineering work to replace one of the older ferries," said EOTC spokesman John Carlisle yesterday.
Mr. Carlisle said the request is for $500,00 a year for two years. He said the grant application has been received positively. "We think it is a request with merit and we look favorably on this application," he said.
Mr. Lamson said yesterday that the EOTC capital grant application has no relevance to the high-speed ferry project. He also said reallocating capital funds for other projects is no simple task at the public boat line.
"As far as taking money from capital projects - we can't direct funds that way in this organization. In a business or a private operation you can do that, but not in our case. We cannot take money from the replacement fund and shift it into some other fund - and we cannot move capital money into operations," the veteran boat line treasurer said.
In short, Mr. Lamson said, he knows of no outside funding that is currently available to help pay for a pilot high-speed ferry project between New Bedford and the Vineyard.
"There is no money to subsidize the operation," Mr. Lamson said, adding: "I think Armand was not aware of any funding source or he would have told us about it before he left. I am not aware of any money that would be available, and so we are proceeding on the basis that this would have to be paid out of the Authority's revenues."
Mr. Tiberio's report includes many pages of boilerplate, including drawings of high-speed ferries, proposed schedules and other material that was included in an information packet circulated at a recent public hearing hosted by the boat line.
The report recounts a mid-summer meeting with New Bedford city officials about the possible use of that city's State Pier for a pilot high-speed ferry project.
In the report, Mr. Tiberio said that New Bedford has agreed to make a 1000-car parking lot available by next spring and that the city would charge $5 a day for parking in the lot. The report does not say where the lot will be located. Mr. Tiberio also said in the report that the boat line will provide the city with specifications for a shoreside terminal at the State Pier, and that the city must complete the work at its own cost.
The report is silent on the subject of any modifications to the State Pier for use by a passenger ferry - and on the cost of such modifications.
Currently the Schamonchi runs out of the privately-owned Billy Woods Wharf in New Bedford; parking for the ferry is adjacent to the wharf in a privately-owned lot.
In the passenger survey, 43 per cent of the respondents on the Woods Hole run said they would be interested in high-speed ferry service from New Bedford to the Vineyard, 37 per cent of the respondents said they would not be interested and 18 per cent said they might be interested.
In this group, 48 per cent said they would be willing to pay higher fares for high-speed service and 49 per cent said they would not. In the same group, 26 per cent said they considered a round-trip fare of $35 to $45 reasonable and 39 per cent said they did not.
On the Schamonchi's New Bedford run, 66 per cent of the respondents said they would be interested in high-speed ferry service, 17 per cent said they would not and 16 per cent said maybe. In this group, 59 per cent said they would be willing to pay higher fares and 37 per cent said they would not. But 37 per cent of the same group said a $35 to $45 fare is unreasonable, while 34 per cent found it reasonable.
Surveys were distributed to passengers on Vineyard-bound ferries over two weekends in August.
In his report Mr. Tiberio wrote:
"While not conclusive, the limited feedback does seem to indicate that a demonstration project should continue to be explored."