Reliable ferries. Better communication. An independent audit. These are the items the Steamship Authority needs to address urgently, according to a survey taken over the last week by people who use the boat line to travel to and from Martha’s Vineyard.

The online opinion survey by the Vineyard Gazette’s Community Surveys Project was closed Tuesday after receiving responses from 2,000 people. Those responding were roughly divided between year-round residents (933) and people who live on the Island less than six months of the year.

SSA governors meeting this week on the Island agreed to seek an independent review of the boatline.

People who filled out the survey offered a wide range of comments and suggestions, from bids for healthier food, better wifi and lower prices to detailed suggestions for ferry design and parking improvements. There were many calls for a high-speed ferry in the off-season and for upgrades to the boat line’s website.

Overall, year-rounders were more critical of the performance of the Steamship Authority over the past 12 months, with 65 per cent saying they are less satisfied with its service than a year ago. Of all respondents, 47 per cent said they were less satisfied with its service, while 46 per cent said their views had not changed.

Ticket agents and crew are generally held in high regard, with 50 per cent of respondents saying they are satisfied with in-person interactions and another 34 per cent saying they are somewhat satisfied. Respondents on the whole are also fairly happy with schedule frequency and ferry comfort. Eight out of 10 people said they were at least somewhat satisfied with both.

The survey revealed the most dissatisfaction with the SSA’s communication about service and schedule changes and the reliability of ferries, especially among year-rounders. About three-quarters of year-round residents said they were somewhat dissatisfied or dissatisfied with the Steamship Authority’s performance in those areas, compared with about half of total respondents.

“Get reliable ferries that don’t break down and are better able to deal with weather,” said one respondent in a sentiment that was repeated by many.

“Get the ferries 100 per cent running,” said another. “Really concerned the continuing issues with mechanical failures will be gravely detrimental this season to my business located on MV.”

And while 65 per cent of all respondents believe an independent audit should be conducted of the Steamship Authority, the figure rose to 77 per cent when only year-round residents’ responses were measured. Among the 11 per cent of respondents who described themselves as heavily reliant on the boat line to make a living, 80 per cent called for an independent audit.

“There is too much at stake to leave it up the current management,” said one respondent. “The track record for the SSA this year is abysmal, both from an overall management communication perspective and more importantly an operations aspect. This service is a lifeline to the Islanders as well as tourists who provide a livelihood to many of the Islanders. In my opinion (as leader of a midsize company) the organization needs a top to bottom analysis and changes may need to be made.”

The survey drew mostly from longtime users of the ferry service, with 80 per cent saying they have traveled regularly on the boats for more than 15 years. About half the respondents travel on the ferry more than once a month, and five per cent travel at least once a week. Most respondents said they usually travel with a vehicle.

Only six per cent of respondents have ever attended an SSA board meeting and 19 per cent said they didn’t know they could.