State throws cold water on ferry commuters

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — It’s going to be a cruel summer for Karl Reynolds and thousands of North Shore commuters.

For two years, the Northeastern University research professor boarded the 35-minute ferry to Boston from the city’s Blossom Street Ferry Terminal and loved it.

But the service has run aground due to lack of funding. Now, he’s back on the MBTA’s commuter rail.

“The ferry was a more beautiful way to get to work,” said Reynolds as he waited for the train at the Central Square Station on Friday. “When I arrived, I was more relaxed. It was wonderful.”

But the Baker administration and local officials are battling over who should pay the $700,000 annual tab to operate the ferry. While the state, under former Gov. Deval Patrick, contributed $8.5 million to build the pier and a parking lot and U.S. Rep Seth  Moulton (D-Salem) recently secured $4.5 million in federal money to purchase a 149-passenger vessel, the state has drawn a line in the sand.

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has said while she supports Lynn’s efforts for the ferry, it is not an MBTA service and the cash-strapped state can’t afford it.

But for Reynolds and others who took the ferry during its two-year trial run, that decision is frustrating.

Susan Solomon, an MIT science professor from Nahant, who described herself as a devoted ferry rider, said the Baker administration’s insistence that Lynn pay the boat’s operating expenses ring hollow since the Hingham and Hull ferries get state subsidies.

“Surely we need and deserve some relief from the congestion that is clogging our North Shore roads, too,” she said. “Getting people off the road and onto the ferry saves money in many ways, such as road maintenance costs, that is conveniently neglected when ‘user pays’ is the only mantra. Baker and his people should be ashamed of themselves, and they should step up to their responsibilities to serve the North Shore instead of trying to weasel out of them.”

The MBTA subsidizes three ferry services that serve Hingham-Boston, Hingham-Hull-Logan and the Charlestown Navy Yard-Long Wharf. For fiscal year 2015 the subsidy totaled about $3.7 million, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). But MassDOT spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said while Salem pays “some financial support for a ferry” she refused to provide the amount and the total, if any, that Winthrop pays. Hingham and Hull do not financially support ferry operations, she said.  

Christopher Whitlock of Nahant was a loyal ferry rider for the past two seasons. He rode his bicycle from his home to the terminal, packed the bike on board and upon arrival, pedaled to the World Trade Center where he worked at Fidelity Investments.

“Before the ferry, I tried every commuting option: a bus from Nahant to the commuter rail or a bus to Blue Line’s Wonderland stop because driving and parking are out of the question because it is crazy expensive,” he said “Even if you take the bus on Route 1A to Wonderland, the traffic is just insane. Door-to-door, it was a 75-minute commute.”

Whitlock is convinced that the North Shore must find more computing capacity through public transportation and the ferry seems to be one answer.

“This is such a no-brainer,” he said. “If Lynn is trying to become the next economic center outside Boston, the state has to invest in public transportation. When you factor in that the Seaport is expanding with more jobs and businesses, the unwillingness to expand public transit does not make sense.”

City Council President and state Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn), who took the ferry a few times, supports the service for the North Shore. He has received a number of calls from constituents asking whether the ride will continue.

“The ferry was a great ride and we’ve had a taste of success with it,” he said. “Not having the ferry is a big blow to the city of Lynn. It feels like a speed bump in the progress we’ve made. It really slows the momentum in the city’s economic development.”


Thor Jourgensen contributed to this report.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]

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