Martha's Vineyard ferry reservations system ready, after tech errors: Steamship Authority

FALMOUTH ― Online summer car bookings for the Martha's Vineyard route will be on schedule after the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket's Steamship Authority said its reservation system has been fixed.

After in-house network technicians, consulting programmers, and system vendors examined and tested the systems, General Manager Robert B. Davis said he is confident the problems marring the reservation process have been solved.

“I want to reassure our customers that we have examined our systems and processes thoroughly and we have every expectation that the Vineyard general opening will proceed smoothly,” said Davis in a statement.

Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority ferries pass each other on the route between Woods Hole and the Vineyard, in September 2022.
Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority ferries pass each other on the route between Woods Hole and the Vineyard, in September 2022.

The summer reservations for Nantucket opened at 5 a.m. on Jan. 17. But by 8:30 a.m., the authority reported that customers had difficulty going from the virtual waiting room to the main website. Those who did access the main website then struggled to complete the reservation process.

According to the authority, by 12:30 p.m., the reservation system was back to full-speed.

The reservation system specifically was not the cause of the issue, Steamship Authority Communications Director Sean Driscoll said in an email Monday. "It was the web server connections and configuration," Driscoll said.

On Nantucket's general opening day, the authority processed about 9,153 transactions totaling $4,748,000 in revenue, representing about 96% of the volume done at approximately the same time of the comparable day in 2022, according to the statement.

In 2021, the number of passengers carried on both the Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket routes was 2.7 million, according to Steamship Authority documents.

What can customers expect when trying to make ferry reservations?

The online reservation opening for travel on the Vineyard route from May 18 through Oct. 23 will begin at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24. The authority will again use a virtual waiting room to direct traffic to the website.

Users are allowed five minutes of inactivity, up from three, before they are returned to the waiting room. Customers are advised to have their payment details and travel dates ready before beginning their reservation process.

More:Steamship Authority makes no significant changes to 2023 schedules despite public pressure

The virtual waiting room refreshes at 5 a.m. on the Vineyard general opening day, meaning there's no bonus to joining the queue early.

The reservation office will have extended hours to provide extra help to online customers from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 24 and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 25 to 30. Reservations cannot be made on the phone or in-person at this time.

Phone bookings will open on Jan. 31.

What did the Steamship Authority do to fix the problem?

Before the lengthy waits and glitches that snared the summer reservation openings on Jan. 17, the authority ran two load tests on the site in November and received normal results. Network connectivity and other technical configurations were also confirmed before the summer reservation period, according to the authority.

Through an analysis, the authority learned that its cloud-based servers hosting its website databases were not properly set up to handle both the volume and duration of web traffic associated with the opening.

More:Cost of riding ferry between Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket islands is going up

When those cloud-based server configurations were changed on Jan. 17, another problem occurred. Several of the authority's internal web servers could not then maintain a connection to the cloud servers.

That caused customers to lose their place in the virtual waiting room line. Once they made it to the site, they could not sustain a stable connection. After the authority took those servers offline, the remaining servers successfully handled the rest of the web traffic.

Since then, the authority's IT team worked with its outside vendors to make sure that its cloud-based servers are properly configured.

"Once those configuration changes were applied, another load test was run on the servers that failed to respond on Tuesday; the servers handled four times the web traffic normally seen on a reservation opening day without incident," reads the statement from the Steamship Authority.

Zane Razzaq writes about housing and real estate. Reach her at Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz.

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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Steamship Authority says Martha's Vineyard ferry reservation ready