Boatline Governors Eye Commuter Book Rules to Change and Simplify

By JAMES KINSELLA
Gazette Senior Writer

NANTUCKET - The Steamship Authority is considering loosening restrictions on the transfer of regular tickets, as well as on the 10-ticket discount books that are a staple of ferry travel for Vineyard residents.

At present, the boat line restricts the use of regular tickets and of the 10-ticket books to their buyers.

But SSA staffers believe that regular tickets and the tickets in the 10-ticket books routinely are transferred among customers. Also, the rules are relaxed on the discount books for Coast Guardsmen and truckers.

The boat line sells the discount books on the Vineyard run for $48, which works out to $4.80 for a one-way fare - a savings of $1.20 over a regular one-way ticket.

The 10-ticket books, commonly known as green books on the Vineyard run for their ticket color, are valid on the route for a year after purchase.

Now, however, SSA managers have proposed dropping the buyer restriction for the regular tickets and for the 10-ticket books on both the Vineyard and Nantucket routes.

General counsel Steven M. Sayers detailed the recommendation in draft sections of proposed Customer Policies and Procedures handbook. At the monthly boat line meeting on Nantucket Tuesday morning, Mr. Sayers presented the board with drafts covering four sections of the proposed handbook for review.

Only 12 people attended the meeting in the Nantucket Inn on a storm-washed day, a far smaller turnout than for contentious SSA meetings on the Island in recent years.

In creating the handbook, SSA management hopes to formalize the boat line's customer policies and procedures, and to recommend changes where appropriate. General manager Wayne C. Lamson said boat line managers have wanted to create a handbook for several years.

The sections cover passengers, non-commercial vehicle reservations, commercial vehicle reservations, and special reservation programs.

All of the recommended policy changes so far have come in the passenger section of the proposed handbook.

Authority managers have proposed eliminating the buyer restriction on commuter books both because of the difficulty in enforcing the restriction, and because of unwritten exceptions to the restriction.

"We believe that tickets are routinely transferred among customers and feel that our policy should reflect this reality," Mr. Sayers wrote.

Also, current policy holds that all of the boat line's discount ticket books, with the exception of the book for the Hyannis-Nantucket fast ferry, cannot be used by anyone other than the person who purchased them.

"As a practical matter, this has been difficult, if not impossible, to enforce," Mr. Sayers wrote.

"In addition," he wrote, "the Authority long has allowed two unwritten exceptions to this policy: United States Coast Guard personnel have been allowed to use each other's ticket book when going back and forth to the Islands, although they may not use more than one coupon from a ticket book on the same trip; and freight customers have been allowed to buy ticket books which are then used by whichever of their drivers is driving the customer's truck that day (the ticket books are often left on the dashboard of each truck), although, as in the case of the Coast Guard, no more than one coupon from a ticket book may be used on the same trip.

"Essentially," he wrote, "we are proposing to change the policy to treat all members of the public equally instead of continuing to make exceptions to this ‘nontransferable' policy only for certain customers or stop making those exceptions."

In the case of the fast ferry ticket book, the Authority allows and would continue to allow members of the purchaser's immediate family to use tickets from the book for the same trip.

The boat line, however, will continue to enforce the buyer restriction on other discount books available for the conventional ferries on the Vineyard and Nantucket routes.

Discount books on the Vineyard route include a 10-ticket senior citizen discount book (colored blue); a 10-ticket student discount book (colored red); and a 10-ticket discount book for children ages five through 12 (colored purple). Each book costs $30. There also is a 46-ride adult commuter book (colored white), that is good for a calendar month. That book costs $110.

Tickets in the commuter books are not subject to the 50-cent ferry embarkation fee.

Mr. Lamson said yesterday that dropping the buyer restriction on the 10-ticket books could reduce boat line revenue.

As a result, he said the SSA may want to decrease the size of the discount on the 10-ticket books, now pegged at 20 per cent. On the other hand, he said, people may be routinely sharing the books already, so the proposed policy change may have little impact on revenue.

At present, Mr. Lamson said, private companies and the Coast Guard often buy multiple books and provide them to their employees and members as needed.

Other changes in the proposed handbook include:

* Allowing children under the age of five to travel free when accompanied by an adult. (At present, the free fare requires the child to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.)

* Providing a discount fare to groups of 20 or more. The current rule requires 15 people to be traveling together as a recognized group, such as a church group or a business retreat, to qualify for the group fare. Such recognition has not been extended to groups traveling to weddings, funerals or family reunions. Mr. Sayers wrote that such distinctions are difficult to enforce.

* Dropping the requirement that students show valid picture identification cards when using student discount ticket books.