Water Transport Could Be Challenged With Ferry Cuts

Advocates for water transportation, and Spaulding patients and commuters, are pushing back on the idea of cutting the Charlestown Ferry service – part of a larger plan by the MBTA to address ridership and revenue losses due to COVID-19.

Alice Brown, chair of Policy and Planning for Boston Harbor NOW, said they have made extraordinary progress in promoting water transportation over the last few years – and they’ve used existing ferry services like that in Charlestown to build on their plan to make water just as important as asphalt for getting around the city.

“I think Boston Harbor NOW has been pushing for new ferry service,” she said. “So, this is a major blow to that effort. If there is no ferry service, there is nothing to build on…The time has finally come for ferries and it’s crucial not to let the T take a big step back from this moment.”

The T is ending the service in March, according to its Forging Ahead plan, and would continue to have it closed until further notice and until ridership numbers return after COVID-19 (hopefully) eases. The alternative plan is to route people to the 93 bus, which stops in the Navy Yard and travels across the North Washington Street Bridge to Haymarket.

Already there has been great success with docking options coming online in East Boston, and other water transport agreements in the works.

Brown said the Charlestown ferry is made up of people going to work, or coming to work from the Navy Yard, but is heavily subsidized and used by tourists coming to the historic attractions in the Navy Yard and Charlestown.

“The ferry is subsidized by tourists,” said Brown. “The local riders are a combination of Navy Yard residents and those coming there to work. It’s also people visiting places like the USS Constitution and the Freedom Trail. Considering tourism is down, it’s no surprise that ridership is down on the ferry, but that’s not a metric for it’s essential nature.”

At Spaulding, they said they do have general usage by patients and staff especially in the summer and they said for people with wheelchairs it can be a more accessible direct transportation than taking the 93 bus and switching to another train.

Spaulding President David Storto said such a decision should be made with an understanding of the impact to underserved and vulnerable populations. 

“Access to public transportation is vital for all communities including for Spaulding’s patients and staff,” he said. “While these are challenging times requiring difficult choices, we expect any decisions are made with a full review of the impact to underserved and vulnerable populations such as persons with disabilities who depend on public transportation to go to work and appointments. We will work closely with all the agencies involved to share the concerns of our community and the impact to our hospital of possibly losing ferry services.”

Brown said the time is now to advocate for the service, even for those in Charlestown that might not use the ferry, but perhaps in the future would benefit from an expanded water transit network.

She said when services are cut, they often don’t come back.

“It’s essential people in Charlestown realize this could go away and that they could share our vision,” she said. “The T is having a series of forums for the Forging Ahead plan…It’s easy to say it doesn’t affect me and I won’t be part of it…You can’t eliminate a service and not also find a way to measure how to bring it back.”

Online meetings for the entire system will be on Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. and on Dec. 2 and 6 p.m.

Residents can also provide comments via email at [email protected]. Please submit feedback by 5 p.m. on December 4, 2020.

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