SSA Planning to Enforce Its Policy on Late Arrivals

By CHRIS BURRELL

Steamship Authority officials plan to clamp down later this summer on a policy that would force last-minute drivers with reservations to change their habits, or risk getting bumped into standby.

With the advent of new electronic ticket scanners, SSA managers said they hope to enforce the policy written in fine print on the backside of tickets, requiring drivers to arrive 30 minutes before the boat departure.

Currently, ticket holders can show up at the ferry slip as little as ten minutes before sailing and still claim their reserved spot. This week, SSA chief executive officer Fred Raskin told the Gazette that when the boat line finally decides to get tough about the 30-minute policy, drivers will have ample warning. "We may ultimately insist on the 30 minutes, but we will get the word out beforehand," said Mr. Raskin.

Mr. Raskin said the policy could go into effect in two or three months as the terminal agents phase in the use of hand-held scanners to process tickets.

"There were some equipment problems early on, but now we're really starting to use them," said Mr. Raskin. "It's an educational process."

While the SSA learns to master its newest gadget, the goals of the system are clear. Mr. Raskin said the instantaneous data will improve and streamline the reservations operation. "One of the complaints I hear most frequently is that people call the reservation office and are told a boat is booked. They show up for that boat and get on with no problems," he said.

With "real-time" processing, as soon as someone takes an earlier boat, the space that had been reserved for later opens up. Scanners, similar to the ones commonly used by major airlines, would also cut down on the use of invalid tickets. Mr. Raskin said the SSA has had a tough time foiling a scheme in which someone claims to have lost a ticket and then receives a duplicate.

"Right now, we can't tell if a ticket we're seeing hasn't been previously used," he said. "We're in a manual world here, behind the technology curve."

The impact of the new technology is sure to change the way boats are loaded and unloaded. A memo issued last month by SSA director of operations James Swindler alerted terminal agents and vessel captains that boats would now be loaded as soon as the last vehicle was off-loaded.

"However, the agent will hold a number of spaces equal to those reservations that have not yet checked in until 10 minutes before departure time. At that time, those spaces will be released to standby customers," Mr. Swindler wrote in the April 18 memo.

Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel said this week that while she wasn't opposed to any of the changes spurred by the new technology, she wants to soften the impact on Islanders.

"They need to do what works best for the system, but when they do it, they have to do it consistently and make sure people know in advance what new procedure will be adopted," Ms. Roessel said. Said Mr. Raskin, "We're not going to toss anyone out of line. We don't want to make this system more rigid than it has to be."