After vowing that Tuesday’s online opening for auto reservations for the Martha’s Vineyard route would run more smoothly than the chaotic Nantucket opening day, the results did not bear out the promise.

One week after Nantucket’s online opening was plagued by hours-long delays, many Vineyard-bound travelers also encountered problems as they tried to get onto the site after bookings opened at 5 a.m.

“This did not meet the expectations of our customers,” SSA communications director Sean Driscoll said.

Customers reported problems both with the virtual waiting room and with their ability to book reservations once on the boatline’s website, Mr. Driscoll said.

Opening day is when reservations become available for summer visitors to book ferry passage for the peak-season travel months. Year-round Islanders and Island property owners with preferred excursion status had an earlier shot, with a summer reservation period that ended Jan. 16. (Telephone and walk-in reservations will not open until Jan. 31.)

The way it was on Tuesday.

Always a hectic day, in past years the surge of visitors caused the SSA’s website to freeze and crash in 2018 and again in 2020; for the last two years, the event seemed to go more smoothly.

This year, the website did not crash, but multiple problems were reported.

Reservations for 2023 surpassed last year’s, but did not break a record, Mr. Driscoll said. By the end of the day Tuesday, the boatline had processed 23,212 online reservations for the Vineyard route generating $6,150,599. By comparison, last year’s general online opening for summer reservations brought in 24,580 transactions representing nearly $5.8 million in revenue, Mr. Driscoll said.

Facing new criticism for another rocky opening day, SSA officials agreed at the Wednesday port council meeting to look for a third-party expert to review the entire technological infrastructure supporting the website.

“We need to move on, and quickly, to address the risk we are facing,” said Peter Jeffrey, Falmouth’s representative on the SSA board of governors, which on Wednesday voted unanimously for an independent audit.

General manager Robert Davis said he will tap attorney Steven Sayers, who remains on the SSA staff after retiring as general counsel in 2018, to manage the process of crafting a request for proposals to be issued next month, with the goal of awarding the contract in March.

Boat line governors also voted to create a working committee of members from their board, the port council and SSA staff to coordinate with Mr. Sayers on the technical review process

The systems review will likely delay the launch of the SSA’s redesigned website, originally due to roll out this spring, Mr. Davis said. The $2 million project has been in the works for several years.

“We may be looking at applying the brakes for [the new site] until we get a fuller understanding of what some of the issues are, and make sure those aren’t issues on the new site,” he said.

Mr. Davis said an analysis of the Jan. 17 slowdown for the Nantucket route, which was resolved by about 2:30 p.m. that day, found two causes. The website’s cloud-based servers weren’t properly set up for the volume and duration of opening day traffic, Mr. Davis said. And even once the cloud-based servers were adjusted, several of the boat line’s internal servers weren’t able to stay connected to the cloud and had to be taken offline.

The SSA had the system load-tested repeatedly before the Nantucket opening, Mr. Davis said, and tested it again more rigorously to prepare for this week’s Vineyard opening.

“Our vendors reported that our tests simulated over four times the volume you would usually see queued for transactions during a live opening,” he told the board. That testing, which did not include the virtual waiting room, indicated that the quadruple load used only 17 per cent of the system’s central processing capacity, Mr. Davis said.

But again this Tuesday, the 5 a.m. rush for online Vineyard bookings almost immediately ran into the same slowdowns Nantucket customers encountered last week.

Mr. Driscoll told the Gazette Tuesday afternoon that the reservation system itself was not to blame because the obstacles began cropping up before customers arrived at the separate reservations server.