Frequent floaters commute at speed of Sound
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — Andreia Blanchard, of Shelton, is a frequent floater, one of about 100 commuters who regularly take the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson ferry to work.
Blanchard, who lived happily on Long Island for a decade, is a network engineer at Stony Brook University near Port Jefferson, N.Y. But five years ago, she decided to buy a house.
After considering ways to commute to Stony Brook each day, she opted for the ferry, even though it meant having to own two cars — one on each side of Long Island Sound.
‘‘It’s still very cost-effective getting to work this way, and also less time-consuming and less nerve-wracking,’’ Blanchard said recently.
The cost per month for a walk-on commuter is $220, but in Blanchard’s case the cost is subsidized by her employer. Plus, she said, the ferry always gets her to work on time.
‘‘What can I say?’’ she shrugged. ‘‘They run a tight ship.’’
Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Co., said commuters represent a small percentage of the roughly 800,000 passengers who ride the ferry each year, but they are an important contingent.
Blanchard said there are about 20 other commuters, including Thomas Ullrich, of Hamden, who routinely make the voyage with her.
‘‘We have a true camaraderie,’’ she said.
A nuclear physicist, Ullrich, splits his work week between Yale University in New Haven and Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.
Ullrich said he takes the ferry two or three times a week. He leaves his car in Bridgeport and a colleague picks him up in Port Jefferson.
If he drove all the way to Upton, it would involve several highways and parkways, including Interstate 95 and the Long Island Expressway. That’s about a 2½-hour drive, which can quickly grow a lot longer when there’s traffic, he said.
Ullrich knows. He sat behind a steering wheel and drove it himself.
‘‘I had a new car and put 35,000 miles on it in one year. It just wasn’t worth it,’’ Ullrich said. ‘‘The ferry is the only game in town.’’
Recently, Blanchard was waiting for the Grand Republic — one of the company’s three ferries — to ease its way into the dock at Bridgeport Harbor. It was just after 7:15 a.m. when Blanchard made her way onboard and settled into one of the many window seats for the 75-minute voyage across 15 miles of Long Island Sound.
Most days, she passes the time working on her computer. But on this day, the self-proclaimed history buff is doing some recreational reading about Abraham Lincoln.
‘‘This is something you can’t do if you drive to work,’’ she said, flipping the pages of the book. ‘‘When I'm on the ferry, I feel like I'm being chauffeured. It’s a good feeling.’’
She said she enjoys the trip.
‘‘The ride is relaxing and being on the water is very therapeutic,’’ she said. ‘‘It gets you in the right frame of mind before getting to the office, and does the same thing for you on the way home.’’
While neither Blanchard nor Ullrich said they usually buy anything from the ship’s snack bar, it does offer a variety of foods for the seafaring traveler. There is also the Steamboat Lounge, where bartenders serve drinks and passengers can check out news or sporting events on flat-screen TVs.
There is also plenty of space to walk around and it’s a lot more comfortable than a cramped railroad car, Blanchard said, adding that trains make frequent stops, unlike the ferry.
The ferry, which runs 365 days a year and makes 10 crossings a day in the winter and 16 or more in the summer, is one ‘‘uninterrupted, smooth ride,’’ she said.
The ferry company has been operating since 1883. One of three ferries currently in service is named after P.T. Barnum, its first president.
Hall also said that ridership hit a peak in 2005, when there were 1 million riders. Hall attributes the ‘‘slight drop-off’’ to the economy.
In fact, Hall said, he can gauge the job market by the number of commuters.
‘‘In good times, there are 50 or fewer,’’ he said.
In times when unemployment is higher, people will take almost any job they can find, ‘‘no matter how far it might be from home,’’ Hall said.
Such is the case with 53-year-old Bob Patrovic, who was offered a job at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford. Patrovic lives in Miller Place, N.Y. — 105 miles away — but still accepted the offer.
And then, the logistics of getting to work had to be addressed. Patrovic knew he didn’t want to drive and began considering alternatives.
‘‘I rode the train to work for three years,’’ he said, referring to his time with Northrup Grumman in New York.Continued...