WINTHROP (CBS) – It was billed as a comfortable way for Winthrop commuters to avoid rush hour traffic: take the town-owned ferry to downtown Boston. However, for more than six weeks, the million-dollar boat has been out of commission.
“The problem with the ferry is that it has been grossly mismanaged by the town of Winthrop,” explained longtime resident and community activist John Vitagliano.
The town first suspended service in mid-June, telling residents it did not have the staffing to run the ferry. Days later, it said that the engine malfunctioned. Shortly after that, the town said the parts required for the repairs had to be shipped from oversees. Frustrated residents call it terrible and say the ferry has never really run well.
Not including lost revenue, the cost to get the ferry seaworthy is set to top $50,000.
Winthrop’s new town manager, Austin Faison, told the I-Team that he understands the criticism and apologized to the commuters who rely on the ferry, admitting the town is not providing the highest level of service that it should be.
These recent woes are in addition to concern about the vessel itself. Winthrop dedicated the Valkyrie in 2016, after buying the vessel for more than one million dollars, with the help of federal and state money.
Some residents say that, when it’s running, the ferry is a good deal. However critics point out it does not run year round. The catamaran-style boat is too small for Boston Harbor in winter months and, during the months that it does operate, there are too few commuter trips to Boston to make it reliable transportation, they say. Vitagliano called the ferry an embarrassment to the town.
Over the last several years, Winthrop invested more than $750,000 in taxpayer money to get the town-owned ferry operational – money some say did not need to be spent since Winthrop already had ferry service. Vitagliano said that, in 2010, the town contracted with Boston Harbor Cruises to run the ferry system. He told the I-Team that during the three-year contract, ridership rose to 15,000.
Greg Sullivan with the Pioneer Institute, a government watchdog group, said that with growing traffic and MBTA troubles, Winthrop had the right idea to get into water transportation. However, he says the town should not be running it themselves. Sullivan said Winthrop should become part of the MBTA ferry system, and pointed out that no other community is running its own commuter ferry.
We asked town manager Faison about that. He told the I-Team that Winthrop is looking to become part of the regional transportation authority, and he agrees Winthrop should become part of the MBTA’s ferry expansion plan. However, if that doesn’t work, another operator should run it.
If Winthrop does decide to stop operating the town-owned ferry, it would be required to give the boat back to the state. In the meantime, Faison said he expects the ferry to be back in service within two weeks.
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