The Steamship Authority is expected to impose higher fees and new restrictions on the operations of its main competitor, Hy-Line Cruises, when the SSA board meets to consider Hy-Line's new licensing agreement on Tuesday.
A request from Hy-Line to cut out high speed service to the Vineyard during the winter months also is expected to receive a favorable recommendation from management. The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Candle House in the Marine Biological Laboratories complex in Woods Hole.
The proposed new licensing restrictions follow several incidents last summer when Hy-Line's boat on the Nantucket service, the Grey Lady, broke down and was replaced with the Lady Martha, which was taken off the Vineyard run.
"We think that if they're going to operate a high-speed service to the Vineyard, they ought to be committed to it," said SSA general manager Wayne Lampson.
"From Nantucket, there is an alternative - the authority also provides a high speed service - whereas there isn't any alternative from Hyannis to the Vineyard," he added.
Mr. Lamson said management will recommend the board ban the practice as part of the new licensing agreement.
He suggested that Hy-Line's proposal to eliminate its four daily fast ferry runs between Hyannis and Oak Bluffs over the December-to-March low season should make such breakdowns less likely anyway.
"In the winter they'll be able to rotate their vessels so they can do the repairs and overhauls they haven't been able to do up to now, because both vessels have been running year round.
"Shutting the Vineyard route down for four months will give them more time to carry out maintenance, which might cut down on the breakdowns," Mr. Lamson said.
Hy-Line's experiment with a winter fast ferry service to the Vineyard proved a comprehensive failure. Only about 10 people a day on average were using it, the line's vice president Philip Scudder said recently.
And Mr. Lamson confirmed that none on the Vineyard would be likely to miss it, saying a request by the authority for public submissions about the continuation of the service had received only three or four responses, all from occasional Island visitors living on Cape Cod.
Conversely, the success of Hy-Line's service to Nantucket is the reason the Steamship Authority is considering increasing its competitor's licence fees.
Fees are calculated on a graduated scale: the more passengers Hy-Line carries, the more it pays per passenger.
Mr. Lamson said SSA management is exploring increasing the number of incremental steps or brackets by which the SSA's take increases.
"Right now," he said, "if they carry say 300,000 passengers a year, they might give us 25 per cent of what our average revenue would be. Over 350 they might increase to 30 per cent.
"We are looking at maybe changing the brackets, where instead of 350 it might be 325, then another at 350 and 375, and so on.
"The last time we looked at this they were carrying 300 to 350,000 and we didn't really think they would be carrying over 350,000 passengers a year.
"Now they're carrying closer to 400,000 on the Nantucket route, and we should take into account the fact that the more they carry, the more they are taking away from us."
The board meeting will also consider a new plan for work on the aging ferry Nantucket. At their last meeting governors rejected the only bid received for the Nantucket's dry docking and refurbishment, and decided to split the job into two parts.
A new bid for about $320,000 has been received for the first part of the process - the dry docking and some limited refurbishment - from Thames shipyard of New London. Mr. Lamson said the new bid saved "maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars," and the work could be done by next spring.
The balance of the work could then be done a year later, without the need to dry dock, and hopefully attract a wider range of bidders and a lower cost, he said.