Feb 23, 2023 - News

Will the Eastie ferry level up?

The East Boston ferry lands at a pier in Eastie, and a transit employee moves the ramp off the pier onto the train after two passengers and a dog get off.

Welcome to Eastie. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

The East Boston ferry drew an average of a couple hundred passengers every day in the fall, far below the 1,750 daily riders it saw during the Blue Line shutdown, a new MBTA report shows.

Why it matters: Officials are looking to the Eastie ferry as a possible alternative during the Sumner Tunnel closure, like it was during last year’s shutdown. And some want to see ferry service year round in the majority-immigrant neighborhood.

  • But the report, which was recently submitted to lawmakers, suggests the ferry service saw little interest from the public outside of those transportation disruptions.

By the numbers: The ferry served a total of 11,011 riders between Sept. 12 and Nov. 30 when the fall pilot ended. Ridership declined as temperatures dropped in the fall, and Saturdays were the most popular day.

  • The pilot cost the state $293,777, even after factoring in $12,420 in fare revenue.

Of note: Legislators secured $1 million for the pilot ferry service in the fiscal 2023 budget, and the state has until the end of June 30, the end of fiscal 2023, to spend the funds.

Yes, but: State Rep. Adrian Madaro, who represents East Boston, says ridership levels are promising considering the lack of advertising ahead of the fall pilot and the fare limitations (the ferry only accepted printed tickets, not Charlie cards).

  • Some residents, including Spanish-speaking commuters, told Axios they didn’t know about the ferry service, or that they couldn’t rely on it to get to work at night.

What they’re saying: "That first Blue Line shutdown, that was really a demonstration. It was the first time that we had ferry service in decades," Madaro tells Axios. "We did know that there were going to be some wrinkles to iron out.”

  • Despite the pitfalls, Madaro says he found neighbors enjoyed the option as an alternative to riding the T or driving, and that tourists were able to explore Eastie thanks to the ferry.

What’s next: The ferry is expected to come back on March 1, ahead of the five-month Sumner Tunnel shutdown that starts in May.

  • The T plans to seek funding to extend ferry service into next summer.

In the meantime, city and state officials are discussing ways to reduce the barriers to taking the ferry. Madaro says he’s pushing for a stronger marketing campaign in multiple languages, later ferry hours and a more flexible user experience so riders can pay using a Charlie card.


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