Repairs to the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf are on track to be completed by June 15, a week ahead of schedule but nearly a month after the terminal’s normal opening, boat line governors learned Wednesday.

And with summer fast approaching and demand for car reservations on the rise, a fourth boat will be added to the Vineyard route on June 17. But passenger traffic remains stubbornly low and revenue projections remain bleak, making budgeting for the coming year a moving target.

At a joint meeting of the SSA board of governors and port council held by videconference Wednesday, director of marine operations Mark Amundsen gave an upbeat report on the Oak Bluffs pier project. He said several of the pilings that needed repairs on the Oak Bluffs terminal had already been completed, putting the project ahead of schedule.

“Right now we’re on schedule for . . . June 15 completion,” Mr. Amundsen said.

Work is ahead of schedule on the Oak Bluffs wharf. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The problems with the wooden drive-on wharf became known two months ago, when it was announced that the terminal needed extensive repairs and wouldn’t be safe for vehicle traffic this summer. After pushback from the Oak Bluffs selectmen, the project was quickly put out to bid with a fast-tracked work schedule and a promised completion date of June 22.

Mr. Amundsen said Wednesday that date had been moved up a week, and the pier would be ready by June 15.

“We’ll deliver it back into operations on that date, fully ready to go,” he said.

The meeting began with an operations summary from the month May. Although much improved from its April nadir, volume is down across the board. Passenger traffic is off 68 per cent from May 2019 and car traffic is running at less than half its normal volume.

Losses year to date are in the millions, and credit card receipts in May were at approximately 60 to 70 per cent of their regular May numbers. May is normally the SSA’s first break-even month of the year financially. That will not be the case in 2020, general manager Robert Davis said.

“Those numbers are a little bit more encouraging than they were in April, but by no stretch of the imagination are these the numbers that we typically would be expecting,” he told governors at the meeting.

Vineyard SSA governor James Malkin raised questions about the way vehicle reservations are being handled. Despite low traffic numbers, paradoxically an “inordinate” number of Islanders have had trouble booking reservations, Mr. Malkin said. He questioned whether there are not enough ferries on the schedule.

Mr. Malkin suggested opening up the full summer schedule on July 1 in anticipation of the July 4 weekend. He also requested that the boat line track the number of people who call to make reservations, rather than simply the reservations themselves, to better gauge demand.

“My concern is I’m just worried about not having capacity over that weekend [in early July] if there’s demand,” Mr. Malkin said. “There’s revenue we might not be getting.”

Mr. Davis admitted that wait times had been three to four hours long in standby lines during peak hours and that there was a point when the boat line was “falling behind” with reservations. But he said the issue had been rectified since the Island Home came back into service.

He also said the summer schedule planned for the Vineyard route has more weekend vehicle capacity than was originally planned in the operating budget.

“We’re hopeful that we stay ahead of this at this point with the service that we’re looking at,” Mr. Davis said. “The next couple of weeks will be telling with the governor’s plan for reopening, to start to see what sort of demand we have.”

But he said even if car demand increases, absent robust passenger traffic, revenue projections will remain low. The SSA splits its revenue evenly from cars, trucks and passengers. The steep downward spike in passengers has proven the most troublesome, according to Mr. Davis.

“It’s the passengers during the summer months that make or break our operations, so if we add more service for vehicles, it’s not quite a break even for that part of it,” he said. “It’s the passengers.”

In other business Wednesday, the port council approved a 2021 operating budget policy while expressing a few reservations about the still unknown impacts of the pandemic. The policy will use traffic levels from March 1, 2019 through Feb. 28, 2020, as a basis, rather than the most recent 12-month period because of the pandemic.

Mr. Amundsen also announced that the SSA had only eight out of 5,000 trips delayed for mechanical reasons through the end of April. Mr. Malkin commended the low number.

“Let’s not count all the accolades yet,” Mr. Amundsen said.