Interim Director of SSA Says Boat Line Will Work First to Fix Reservations System

By JULIA WELLS

The improvements started yesterday.

This was the word from Steamship Authority acting general manager Wayne Lamson, who said an array of changes are now under way aimed at improving the telephone reservations system at the boat line. The improvements include a change in operating hours at the central reservations bureau in Mashpee, and a number of changes in the automated telephone answering system.

The telephone operating hours at Mashpee will now be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. instead of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mr. Lamson said the shorter hours are expected to actually improve service because they will allow the boat line to employ more telephone operators at one time. He said a recent analysis of call volumes and wait times showed that the best service occurred between 1 and 3 p.m., when there was an overlap in shifts and twice the number of operators were on duty.

"This will allow us to have both shifts working the same hours, so although the hours are shorter there are twice as many people during the morning and later in the afternoon, and we think this will overall provide better service," Mr. Lamson said.

Mr. Lamson will report in more detail on the changes at the monthly boat line meeting on Nantucket this week. The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Nobadeer Room in the Nantucket Inn.

He said yesterday that the SSA automated answering system will also be changed to include better information for callers on hold. Some of the changes are already in place, while others will take another week or more.

"This is an ongoing process - some things we are able to implement quickly, while others are going to take upwards of four to six weeks," Mr. Lamson said.

He said the change in hours was due to go into effect on Sept. 9, so it made sense to change the hours early rather than hire more reservation clerks so late in the season.

"We are trying to match the resources with the volume, and we decided this was better than hiring new people because it would take two to three weeks to get everyone up to speed. Had this been June or July, we might have done things differently," Mr. Lamson said.

The hours at the airport reservations office on the Vineyard will remain unchanged at 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Same-day sailing reservations are made by calling a different telephone number - 508-477-7447 - between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Mr. Lamson said improvements in the computer reservations system are also under way, and are expected to be completed in the next several weeks.

In other business Thursday, the boat line board will also vote on a proposed bid package for a replacement for the venerable ferry Islander. The capital planning schedule calls for building the replacement vessel over the next two years.

Mr. Lamson will also give a detailed report on the recent mechanical problems with the Eagle, the car and passenger ferry that operates exclusively on the Nantucket route.

The Eagle went out of service last week after she lost a starboard rudder. The cause is believed to be a welding failure.

Yesterday the rudder repairs to the Eagle were complete and the ferry was en route from Fairhaven back to Nantucket, where she was expected to resume regular service by midafternoon.

The spare freight ferry Sankaty was used as a replacement vessel on the Nantucket run while the Eagle was out of service, and the Nantucket also ran extra trips to help clear the backlog of cars and trucks.