APTA | Passenger Transport
May 24, 2010

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The classifieds in this issue offer eight Help Wanted positions, including two chief executive posts!


Water Wonderland in R.I.

This editorial originally appeared April 17, 2010, in the Providence Journal, Providence, RI. Reprinted by permission.

The ferry between Providence and Newport had been a delight for those who took it, but in recent years its future hung by an annual thread, only to be saved by a last-minute reprieve. The service seemed to have only nine lives, for it ended after its ninth season in 2008. The Rhode Island Transit Authority says it will not return this year.

Not that RIPTA didn’t try to revive it. RIPTA asked ferry-service operators to put in bids for the right to run the ferry. The deal would not include operating subsidies, but it did offer the dock, ticketing office, trolley connections and help with marketing. Sadly, there were no takers.

From 2000 to 2008, the ferry service enjoyed funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It was a demonstration project designed to test and measure demand for ferry transportation. RIPTA said it proved popular with residents and tourists, and ridership generally increased, hitting a high of 48,000 in one season.

We’ve always believed that to thrive, the ferry service has to be year-round, with a schedule that makes it a dependable form of transportation for commuters. That way it doesn’t become hostage to the vagaries of weather or the tourist economy.

Indeed, there could be ferry stops all along Narragansett Bay, in such places as Bristol, Barrington, Riverside, Jamestown, Wickford and Warwick. Combining some of the reliability of the Staten Island Ferry and the amenities of the [MTA] Metro-North [Railroad] bar car could turn the ferry into a pleasant commuter habit.

Given its geography, Rhode Island is one of the best states, perhaps the best, for a ferry system. That could help lighten highway car traffic even as using more barges in “short-sea shipping” up and down the East Coast could take more trucks off the roads. We assume that the economy will someday improve and that there will be more opportunity to build up our watery region’s water transportation.

But as for those lovely voyages between Newport and Providence, alas, perhaps next year.

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