MBTA Debuts New Ferry Service in East Boston

Lewis Mall, East Boston: A ferry attendant waits for a bicyclist to wheel his bike onboard before loading the removable metal ramp back on the ferry this morning.
Lewis Mall, East Boston: A ferry attendant waits for a bicyclist to wheel his bike onboard before loading the removable metal ramp back on the ferry this morning.

This week marked the start of the new ferry service project between East Boston and downtown Boston, making it easier to cross the harbor with a bike. 

From now until the end of November, residents and visitors can enjoy a ferry ride across the harbor for the same price as a subway ride: $2.40, or $1.10 for reduced fare riders. The ferry runs between Long Wharf on the Harborwalk in downtown Boston and Lewis Mall in East Boston, a few steps from the East Boston Greenway.   

The service gives bicyclists a way to travel to and from East Boston with a bike during peak hours, when bikes are not allowed aboard the Blue Line, an issue Senator Lydia Edwards raised back in 2020 while she was still serving as a Boston City Councilor.

Edwards, together with Mayor Michelle Wu, who was then her fellow city councilor, proposed a pilot program to dedicate one car on every Blue Line train for bikes. 

“We’re dealing with huge increases in traffic in East Boston and need to find ways to give people more options to get downtown,” she explained in a 2020 tweet. 

The pilot didn’t materialize, but if it had, it would have given bicyclists a way around the MBTA’s rules for bikes on the subway system, which limit the number of bikes to two per car, and ban them altogether from 7-9 a.m. in the inbound direction and from 4-6 p.m. in the outbound direction. 

The ferry pilot is not a new idea. About 1,750 daily riders took this ferry back when the service was offered for the first time earlier this spring as an alternative way to cross the harbor while the MBTA shut down the Blue Line for maintenance work (by contrast, the Blue Line gets about 41,000 riders on a typical post-pandemic weekday).

In the MBTA’s press release posted last week, Senator Edwards, who helped secure state funds for the service, again highlighted the importance of transportation options for East Boston. 

“We need to build and invest as much as possible in affordable waterfront transportation,” said Senator Edwards. “This is just the beginning!” 

On Wednesday evening, David, an East Boston resident, told StreetsblogMASS that he’s happy about the ferry service. 

“The only kind of reasonable way to the city (from East Boston) is over water or the tunnel,“ he said. “People who drive, and I also drive, go through the tunnel for 20 cents, and it costs $2.40 to take the T. So they’re encouraging people who live in East Boston to drive… everyone’s complaining about parking problems and traffic, so why not flip that and give East Boston discounts for taking the T?”

He also noted that the ferries’ fare payment system is inconvenient for monthly pass-holding T riders. 

Currently, ferries do not have CharlieCard readers on board, so riders must pay their fare through the mTicket app, the same app used for Commuter Rail fares and other ferries, or with cash at the Long Wharf ticket booth. Printed LinkPasses, Commuter Rail Zone passes, and M7 passes are also accepted. 

“If you buy a monthly CharlieCard, or your employer gives you a monthly CharlieCard, even though it’s the same price as an individual (subway) ride, the ferry costs $2.40 above their monthly pass,” explained David. “So those monthly pass holders are probably not going to take it.“ 

Greg poses next to his bike on the outdoor part of the ferry with the Boston skyline in the background
Greg, an East Boston resident, stands next to his bike as the ferry rides across the harbor Wednesday evening during sunset. He shared he also used the ferry when it was available earlier this spring and likes the flexibility of being able to bring his bike along.

Greg, an East Boston resident coming back from an evening workout at the gym, said he likes the ferry service because it gives him an easier way to go back and forth and he’d like to see it become a continuous service. “It’s just nice having all the options, especially on nice days.” 

Sarah Scott Rodriguez, a dear friend of mine visiting for the week from Austin, Texas, said she used to take ferries when she lived in Seattle and that as a transportation option, she would give the East Boston ferry 4 or 5 stars, “especially in comparison to the rest of Boston transportation.”

“Taking the Green Line, I definitely saw how over-taxed and how well loved the transportation system is because there are so many people taking it, but it also makes it hard as a commuter, especially if you’re trying to get somewhere on time and there are a lot of stops, or if you can’t get into a train because its full,” said Rodriguez.

The ferry ride takes around 10 minutes as it covers about a half mile distance across the harbor from one wharf to the other. That’s about 5 times longer than the subway ride from Aquarium to Maverick, but the views are better:

boat cruises across the harbor as twilight sets in with the Boston city skyline in the background
View from the inside of the ferry around 7:20 p.m. Wednesday evening. “The views were beautiful. There wasn’t a lot of space to stand outside, but you could still see it through the windows,” said Rodriguez.

The service will pause in the winter, but resume again in the spring.

See the East Boston ferry schedule.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A Black man in a dark navy suit holds a microphone while listening to a curly-haired white woman in a red suit while she gestures with one hand and holds a microphone in the other. They are sitting on a stage in a conference room in front of a light blue banner that reads "NACTO Designing Cities 2022"

An Inside Look at Federal Highway Officials’ Efforts to Encourage Safer Streets

|
The annual conference of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) conference in Boston earlier this month offered a sort of homecoming for Stephanie Pollack, the former leader of MassDOT who left for Washington in early 2021 to lead the Federal Highway Administration in President Biden’s administration. Pollack’s return to Massachusetts coincided with the […]