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Charlestown residents organizing to oppose MBTA proposal cutting ferry service

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  January 16, 2012 12:36 PM

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The following is a letter from Charlestown residents Jennifer Schultz, Andrew Reed, Elianna Nuzum, Susan Robb, and Kunal Pasricha. They oppose the elimination of the Charlestown commuter boat under the MBTA's proposed fare and service changes. The group has collected more than 200 signatures on a petition to oppose the MBTA's proposal. More information about the proposed changes can be found here.

If you live in Charlestown and work in downtown Boston, one of the best parts of your work day is your commute on the Charlestown ferry to and from work. There is nowhere else in Massachusetts, save maybe Hingham or Quincy, where anyone feels the same way. On no other form of public transportation can residents rely that the transport will be on time, every time, and actually stick to its schedule. On no other form of public transportation can residents know that they will have a pleasant, consistent commute. And on no other form of public transportation can commuters sit outside, with the wind in their hair and the sun on their faces, forming a sense of community and friendship with fellow riders while also having the opportunity to reflect happily on their choice to live in a community on its way to becoming revitalized and redeveloped. But this is all about to change if either of the MBTA’s recent proposals, both of which would eliminate all MBTA ferry boat service, is adopted.

We are five residents of Charlestown and the Charlestown Navy Yard who ride the commuter boat to work each day. We all chose to live in the Navy Yard, in significant part, because of the ease of the commute downtown on the ferry, and many of us will seriously consider moving if the commuter boat service is shut down. We strongly oppose the MBTA’s short-sighted, unnecessary proposals to eliminate all commuter boat service.

Both the Charlestown Navy Yard and the nearby Charlestown gas light district are popular places for professionals to live, and the majority of us commute on public transportation to Boston for work. Since our area does not have a T stop from which to commute, the commuter boat is the closest (and best) option for the thousands of residents who live in the Navy Yard and most who live in nearby Monument Square and Bunker Hill. We believe these areas will become significantly less desirable if the commuter boat is eliminated. One person we talked to, currently a renter in the Navy Yard, commented that he had been giving serious thought to buying his condo, but was going to put that on hold until this MBTA controversy is resolved. Significantly, he stressed that if the commuter boat is eliminated, far from looking to own property in this area, he would be looking to move to a new neighborhood soon.

The commuter boat is an important part of the Navy Yard’s revitalization, and this neighborhood, much as we have all come to love it, is nowhere close to being fully redeveloped. First Avenue in the Navy Yard is still lined with vacant abandoned warehouses. Elimination of the commuter boat will likely trigger a flight of residents from the Navy Yard, and fewer residents means decreased need for the present vacant warehouses to be redeveloped. Without the boat, we are also concerned that property values will sharply decrease. We are a waterfront community serviced by a local, neighborhood, public commuter boat.

The commuter boat also plays an important role in bringing tourism to Charlestown. The Navy Yard houses the U.S.S. Constitution and Museum, and both the Navy Yard and central Charlestown are included on important stops on the Freedom Trail. Duck boats take off from the Navy Yard. In the spring, summer and fall, the Charlestown ferry is frequently filled to capacity with tourists going to and from the Navy Yard. How many of those tourists would make Charlestown a stop on their vacation if they had to ride the bus in and out?

While we appreciate the need for the MBTA to address its budget deficit, we believe that the proposal to eliminate not just the Charlestown ferry, but all commuter boat services in their entirety, is a short-sighted decision that will have a marginal impact on the MBTA’s bottom line while inconveniencing countless people who have to come to rely on this service for their transportation needs. Indeed, the MBTA’s own Public Information Booklet about the proposed reductions states that eliminating all ferry service will save $3.7 million in annual operating costs but affect 1.3 million riders. Surely there are any number of steps the MBTA can take—short of a complete elimination of the ferry service—that can help increase revenue or reduce expenses.

For example, the Charlestown ferry currently runs every fifteen minutes during rush hour, requiring the MBTA to keep two boats in service during that time. Changing the Charlestown ferry schedule to every half hour during rush hour would obviate the need for a second boat and would certainly reduce expenses. Similarly, reducing mid-day service or eliminating weekend service in the winter are other options that can improve the MBTA’s bottom line without a total elimination of the service. And of course, the MBTA can also do what it is doing in other areas to help overcome its budget deficit—increase fares. It is unclear what analysis, if any, the MBTA has done on the willingness of people to pay higher fares for the ferry service, but we would certainly be willing to pay increased fares if the only other option is not having the service at all. We are sure many others feel the same way. We believe that some combination of a reduction in the ferry service and/or an increase in fares is a more sensible approach that can help the MBTA achieve some of its budgetary goals without severely disrupting so many lives. This approach, which is superior to either proposal by the MBTA, would better share the burden between the MBTA and its riders without marginalizing entire neighborhoods.

In opposition to the MBTA’s imprudent proposals, we are circulating petitions, gathering support to voice our opposition at the upcoming public meetings, and urging neighborhood groups like the Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard, the Charlestown Business Association, the Charlestown Waterfront Coalition, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and our local representatives to join us in our fight. The MBTA’s proposal to eliminate commuter boat service is unnecessary and will harm a neighborhood currently on its way to redevelopment.

If you are interested in joining us in this important cause, you can email us at savethecharlestownferry@gmail.com.

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