Letter: Let’s improve, not abandon, the Bristol ferry

Posted 2/15/24

Employing a water option around the bridge traffic was an excellent idea. However, it was administered recklessly.

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Letter: Let’s improve, not abandon, the Bristol ferry


To the editor:

Ready! Fire! Aim…

That’s the expression a crewman on the Bristol-Providence ferry used when talking to me on the final day of that service regarding the state’s approach to this option for commuting around the Washington Bridge catastrophe. The twisted idiom fit.

Employing a water option around the bridge traffic was an excellent idea. However, it was administered recklessly. The short-lived service came off as a shriek of panic issued by administrators desperate to do something that they could present publicly as an effort to lessen the crisis.

I don’t claim expertise when it comes to facing a challenge like the demise of the Washington Bridge—whatever the heck went wrong. Still, logic would have led me to consider a water-based travel solution. Logic would have also led me to not overdo the initial effort and jeopardize success.

Using three large boats with a full day’s schedule before assessing potential ridership was a mistake. Designating parking in Bristol at Colt State Park, necessitating a shuttle to get to the boat, was also a mistake.

The good new is: the Washington Bridge is such a disaster that there is plenty of time to try a Bristol-Providence ferry service again, but get it right this time: Ready! Aim! Fire!

If I were King of Rhode Island, I would suggest that running one, smaller ferry between Bristol and Providence would be an excellent way to revive the service. One boat running at peak commuter times in the morning and afternoon would serve those who could make good use of the option to get to and from work (like me), or otherwise get to desirable destinations within a short distance of the docks. These include restaurants, shops and other attractions. Running one boat would allow for a boarding schedule of about an hour and-a-half interval at either terminus, which would be reasonable.

As King, I would also let prospective ferry riders know that you don’t have to park somewhere remote and take a shuttle to get to the boat in Bristol. Street parking there is not that tough during the day and there is an underused public lot at the Town Common on State Street, about two blocks from the ferry dock. That’s a five-minute walk for most, or a one-minute ride for those who bring their bike—like me.

In the first attempt, businesses that could benefit from ferry ridership didn’t advertise—at least not broadly—as destinations. The state could have helped, giving a boost to businesses impacted by the bridge mess. Bristol features many good restaurants close to the ferry landing as well as fun shops and other attractions. Likewise, the Providence terminus puts you close to lots of desirable dining, socializing and points of interest.

Encouraging boat-bike commuting could also be a way to get more people interested as bridge construction lingers on. My own commute to Hasbro Children’s Hospital required a five-minute bike ride from dock to door. No problem. Those working in downtown Providence or on the East Side would have an even shorter distance to pedal.

Finally, though I was ecstatic about a free ferry, I would gladly pay a reasonable fare to take advantage of a revived service. I’m a RIPTA bus rider and the two dollars it takes to get me to Providence never burdens my wallet—and neither does the two bucks to get home. A reasonable fare for a relaxing, scenic ferry ride would work for me.

I am aware that it is tremendously difficult to wrest the steering wheel from the hands of car owners. We love the driving freedom. Public transportation isn’t popular around here, despite the affordability. It takes an adjustment of mentality to make it work—but it is possible. I found myself adapting very quickly to the ferry. It became a happy, new part of my life. Getting around ugly traffic while enjoying a comfortable cruise with pleasing views of upper Narragansett Bay for free—what was not to like?

Since I am not King of Rhode Island, I can only ask that those who are in power take another look at the option of a ferry service between Bristol and Providence. If the state doesn’t want to give it another try, maybe a private operation can step in. Ferry service remains a viable and desirable travel alternative for many not wishing to endure the time-wasting frustration of Washington Bridge traffic.

Steve Brosnihan

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.