A new push to expand ferry service in Boston Harbor

A new push to expand ferry service in Boston Harbor

BOSTON — One thing Bostonians seem to agree on these days is that traffic has never been worse. Now, there's a new push to get people off the roads, and onto the water, instead.

Many waterfront cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle already have extensive ferry systems for commuters.

Now the goal of some public policy planners is to get Boston to catch up.

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The MBTA and Boston Harbor Cruises currently run some successful ferry routes, such as the ferry between Hingham and Boston. More than a million tickets are sold annually on that shuttle.

On board one of those ferries, Maryanne McCarthy recently told Boston 25 News: "I love to ride the ferry. Approaching Boston by water is just a beautiful way to come in, and you don't have any of the stress of trying to drive in and find parking."

Other routes, like one that links Charlestown to Long Wharf, are also available, but Alice Brown of the nonprofit, Boston Harbor Now, thinks the time is right to provide more "off the road" options for commuters.

"With the growth and development of the Seaport, combined with the growth of the residential area in East Boston, and continuing to flourish here in downtown, you have more job connectivity and so you can provide really meaningful service to neighborhoods that didn't have the same demand 10 years ago," explained Brown.

Boston Harbor Now completed an analysis of the waterfront and is proposing two new routes.

One is the Inner Harbor connector which would link Charlestown, Long Wharf, East Boston and the Seaport.

The Quincy-Colombia Point ferry would stretch south from downtown.

"The Inner Harbor Connector would service over 1.5 million people annually, and the service from Quincy could service up to 400,000," said Brown.

Would numbers like those have any impact in terms of easing congestion on area roads?

"No, it's not going to decongest the Southeast Expressway.  It's not going to take all the traffic the bridges, but it is going to make commutes better," said Peter Furth, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University.

Furth believes expanded ferry service would not solve the region's traffic problem alone, but that it could be a piece in that puzzle if it's done right.

"The novelty of wanting to ride on a ferry boat, ‘Oh isn't that cool', will get you a few riders, but that's not going to sustain service," added Furth.  "It has to be good in terms of travel times, and travel costs, and travel reliability. Those are the three things that travelers care about."

Raising money for boats and updating docks would be a big challenge, but Brown says other cities have figured out how to make it happen. "I think that Boston is shockingly not as connected to the water as other harbor cities."

Making that connection will just take more people like Janelle Smith, of South Weymouth. "We rarely ever bring a car into town. A ferry is a great option, and it's very safe and I just enjoy it."

Private institutions are also now offering transportation on the water. The Institute of Contemporary Art runs a shuttle between their main facility in the Seaport and a venue they own in East Boston and the Encore Boston Harbor Casino is planning to offer a water service between Boston and Everett when they open later this month.