Um, what? Has anyone else heard of this? I only discovered it by reading a recent CTPS report that gave it a passing reference on page 28. It said that the “Massachusetts Convention Center Authority” contracted Bay State Cruises to lease a few boats from New York and run a ferry from North Station to the Seaport District as a one-year pilot, generally meant for Seaport employees but open to the public by advance reservation only. Also apparently it’s been running since January?? Well, I was seeing a movie in the Seaport District the next day, so needless to say, I made a quick decision to take the scenic route there.
The ferry leaves every 20 minutes from each pier during weekday peak periods. Despite the relatively frequent service, you still have to buy a ticket for an individual trip in advance. I picked the 5:40, but having to choose an individual trip makes the service lose what should be a “turn up and go” mentality, at least for the public – participating employees ride for free, and can presumably board any boat. The tickets are “$4” each, but there’s a $1 purchase fee, so it’s basically $5. At least I bought for me and my friend, so we were able to save a dollar by doing two tickets in a single purchase.
So…the Orange Line tends to be really infrequent at rush hour. And leave people behind. And if that, say, happens to you, then you might end up missing the 5:40 boat that you specifically bought a ticket for. But it’s not entirely my fault! To “track” its two boats, the ferry website links to each of them on vesselfinder.com, which doesn’t seem to update very often – it showed the boat down at the Seaport District and I assumed it was late, so we took our time getting to the dock. It was just pulling away when we arrived, having left right on time. Maybe the 49 Euros (?) per year Premium upgrade on VesselFinder gives you more frequent tracking updates. Because every transit service should require a fee to get good predictions for its vehicles!
Lovejoy Wharf was surprisingly easy to get to, although there’s no signage from directly within North Station. I know the MBTA used to run ferries here (one to the Seaport, coincidentally enough! The old system looks very confusing), but the wharf’s current incarnation is very new, not showing up in Google Street View images as recently as last October. It’s super basic, with just a few ramps – if there’s any kind of unsatisfactory weather, this will not be a pleasant place to wait at.
When the Moira Smith showed up and started dumping out all of its passengers coming from the Seaport, I was worried that the crew wouldn’t let us on, since we had tickets for the 5:40. “I’ll check your tickets on board,” the attendant said as we stepped on. As we settled down in the rather nice boat interior, the ferry took off at 6:00 on the nose. At least now if our tickets didn’t work, they wouldn’t be able to kick us off?
Luckily we wouldn’t have to worry. The attendant scanned our tickets, no problem. The boat sailed under the North Washington Street Bridge, and we made our way around the edge of the North End. The Financial District came closer into view while on the other side, we could see planes taxiing at Logan Airport.
We steered clear from the normal Downtown Boston wharves, though, moving toward the squat, stubby buildings of the Seaport District. After going by some people nonchalantly sitting on the side of their sailboat that was tipped at a 45 degree angle, we pulled around into the little basin next to the ICA. The boat docked at a weird diagonal pier jutting out into the water.
While Lovejoy Wharf had been lax about fares, it was much more official down here. A sign proclaimed that you must show your ticket to board, and ferry officials were standing at the entrance making sure everyone had paid. Of course, this was the peak direction, and most of the people getting on were employees who just flashed smartphone tickets. Perhaps the fare officials go to Lovejoy Wharf in the morning?
Fan Pier, the Seaport stop, didn’t have a lot to it. It featured a little more than Lovejoy, since at least there was a shelter at the end of the pier, so people can stand under that in inclement weather (no benches). An A-frame sign would’ve provided much better navigation than the signage at Lovejoy, had it not been on the ground with “Ferry to Seaport” up instead of “Ferry to North Station.” I propped it up so it was pointing to the right place. Yay!
Route: Seaport/North Station Ferry
Ridership: Two very different camps: going toward North Station, it was lots of people coming from work and flashing their passes; the other way was super light (four people on my ride) and more casual, with a group of three women buying their tickets right on the boat. This article from March has more specific ridership information, saying that most peak-direction boats get 50-75 riders, adding up to 650 a day in the ferry’s first month of service. Each boat carries 100 people, with 85 slots for employees and 15 for the general public. Also, apparently the fares used to be $13 – eek!
Pros: These two boats are replacing twelve former shuttle buses, taking traffic off the road while still providing good service and almost certainly a faster ride. It takes about 17 minutes to go one way, where previously the only options were the traffic-ridden 4 (“this is a great bus” – not one of my better reviews), a convoluted three-seat subway ride, or flat-out walking. It’s entirely paid for by the companies, so obviously employees come first with their free rides, but the general public fare of $5 is not terrible – it’s on par with the half-hourly Encore ferry that I swear I’ll ride at some point, and cheaper than the $6, super infrequent Winthrop Ferry that’s been out of commission all summer. Plus, both of those only go to Long Wharf, while this is great for North Station Commuter Rail connections. It’s a nice ride on a decent boat, and it seems to run bang on-time.
Cons: So, the service is clearly great for employees, but what about the general public? Well, it only runs at rush hour, so if you’re using it for leisure travel, you’re probably only going to be able to take it one way. Being forced to buy in advance is a turn-off for those making spontaneous plans, and why should I have to pick a specific journey when it’s on a 20-minute headway? At least the attendant let us ride even though it wasn’t our ticketed trip! Best strategy if you have a smartphone is probably to wait to buy the ticket until you’re at the dock, since it’s unlikely the public slots will fill up on any given trip. Finally, there’s something that employees and the public alike can agree on: that tracker is horrible!
Nearby and Noteworthy: I’ve been inexplicably going to the Seaport with friends a lot this summer, which is bizarre to me because I thought of it as a wasteland a few years ago. Now it’s a fun place to be, with walkable streets, lots of (often expensive) restaurants, a bit of retail (which Boston needs more of), a decent luxury movie theater, and of course, the ICA. It gets packed at night, something that’s just exciting to experience in a not-very-nightlifey city. I consider most of the area to be too boujee for me, but I guess there’s something about it that keeps me coming back.
Final Verdict: 8/10
For the purpose these ferries have set out to serve, the service is amazing: free passes for employees, frequent service during the rush, and a quick, direct ride to North Station. They get let down by what’s provided for the public, forcing people to buy their tickets cash-free in advance and not having a great span of service for leisure travel. However, there understandably is much less of a market for North Station to Seaport travel outside of peak times, so I can’t get too upset about the downplaying of public usage. If you’re trying to get to the Seaport, the ferry is a fun option, but you’re probably going to end up on the Silver Line most of the time. And if you’re looking for a fun off-peak ferry ride, look no further than the fantastic Charlestown Ferry.
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates