Boston's Ferry Service Slated for Cancellation Due to COVID-19

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Published Dec 3, 2020 2:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, better known in Boston as the T, is planning to suspend all of its ferry services beginning in spring 2021. The cancellation is part of a $130 million cost-savings plan that will also see service reductions on its commuter rail, bus and subway routes. 

MBTA runs two ferry services across Boston Harbor, connecting Charlestown Navy Yard, downtown Boston, Logan Airport, the island of Hull and Hingham, Massachusetts. The service is privately operated by Boston Harbor Cruises under contract, and it uses two MBTA-owned ferries and additional vessels owned by BHC. 

MBTA says that the drastic cutback is a necessary response to a collapse in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency has seen daily ridership fall by 75 percent relative to the levels of 2019, but it has maintained the same service frequency. It now wants to cut back some of its services in order to maintain resources for the most-used lines. Subways and buses will stop service after midnight and cut frequency by up to 20 percent, and commuter rail lines will stop all weekend servce and all service after 9 PM. 

The MBTA's ferries have been hit harder than any of its other services, losing nearly 90 percent of their ridership relate to pre-pandemic levels. The boats are now averaging seven passengers per trip. Seeing a near-total collapse in demand, the MBTA plans to halt all ferry service and divert riders to alternative bus or rail services. 

A recent survey by research firm MassINC found that two-thirds of Massachusetts residents opposed shutting down the ferry. With the advent of a vaccine on the horizon, the overwhelming majority said that they would return to using public transit. 

However, even if ridership returns to 80 percent of its normal levels by next fall, the MBTA says that it is looking at losses in excess of $300 million unless it begins cutting costs.