SSA Traffic and Revenue Numbers Drop; Governors Consider Financial Remedies

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

Traffic is down, revenues are down, there's an economic downturn going on and the weather has been awful.

As a result of all this, the Steamship Authority will begin to sell advertising space on the ferries and in the boat line terminals to pick up some extra cash.

Boat line managers also said yesterday that they will continue to pursue a plan to change the winter ferry schedule on the Vineyard run as a way to save some money.

If it is adopted as now proposed, the schedule change will mean much longer waits between ferries in the late afternoon and early evening - prime travel time for year-round Island residents who commute or take day trips on the boats in the winter months.

The plan to sell advertising space is expected to net the SSA about $25,000 a year.

"This is a big revenue producer for other transportation companies, and it's something I think we should do to hopefully raise some money. It's going to be slow, incremental," said SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin.

"I applaud management for taking a look at some way to generate extra revenue - I think we really need this," said Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel.

The comments came during the monthly boat line meeting held in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven yesterday morning.

In his monthly business summary, SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin outlined the bad news when it comes to the numbers:

* Car, passenger and truck traffic is sharply down for the year on both runs.

* Total revenues are off budget by about $1 million.

* Net revenues are off budget by about $500,000.

"We've lost a lot of ground this year," Mr. Raskin said. He said boat line treasurer Wayne Lamson will present revised budget projections for the year at the July boat line meeting in Hyannis.

Meanwhile, Mr. Raskin said managers continue to look at ways to save money.

A complicated set of changes are now proposed for the winter schedule, but Mr. Raskin said yesterday that the changes are still subject to revision following a public meeting on the Vineyard last week.

The contemplated schedule change would eliminate one trip on the ferry Islander late in the day and add one trip on the ferry Martha's Vineyard earlier in the day. A change in the early morning freight run is also part of the plan. SSA managers say the plan would save money because it would eliminate most of the need for triple crews on the ferries.

The plan to eliminate one late-day trip on the Islander would mean a two-hour wait between boats in the early evening, instead of the one-hour wait that Island residents now enjoy.

Yesterday Ms. Roessel said she would support the change in the freight schedule, but she said she is still not convinced about the proposed changes in the schedule for the big ferries.

"I do feel we need to look a little harder at what we do with the schedule for the big boat," Ms. Roessel said.

Boat line governors voted to approve a plan by management to contract with an advertising company in Boston to sell ad space on the ferries, in the terminals and on SSA buses.

Mr. Raskin said yesterday that the SSA had received two responses to a request for proposals (RFP). He said Carroll Advertising Inc. had been chosen "because of its Massachusetts orientation, experience in outdoor advertising and willingness to proceed on a measured approach."

Boat line governors expressed concern about having some control over the content of the advertising. SSA general counsel Steven Sayers said some controls will be allowed - for example, he said the boat line can prohibit advertising for tobacco and alcohol products. But he said there cannot be complete control because of First Amendment laws.

In other business yesterday James Swindler, the director of operations for the boat line, said a new customer assistance program is now in place to offer services for customers with disabilities.

SSA engineer Carl Walker reported in some detail about plans to improve maintenance on the ferries that operate on the Nantucket route.

Nantucket SSA representatives have spoken out in recent weeks about what they describe as a general attitude of neglect on the Nantucket run.

Yesterday Mr. Walker said there had been some problems with both the Eagle and the Nantucket, and he said the SSA is taking steps to correct the problems.

Flint Ranney, the Nantucket member of the port council, thanked the senior managers for their response.

"I appreciate your attention to the Nantucket route," Mr. Ranney said.