A Hummel Report Investigation
The Providence-to-Newport ferry has been a huge success since it was launched on July 1st - with 12,000 tickets sold in the first three weeks. But the service relies on a $500,000 federal grant to heavily subsidize ticket prices. This week we take a ride and ask the Department of Transportation: is there is any scenario where it wouldn’t have to rely on taxpayer money to make it work?
Nearly half an hour before its first-run-of-the-day, the new Providence-to-Newport ferry is just about full. The 65-foot high-speed catamaran is docked at India Point and in its first three weeks of operation has proven to be quite a hit with Rhode Islanders and tourists alike.
After a few stragglers arrive to make the sellout official, the Ocean State backs away from the dock at 10:07 and everyone settles in on this near-perfect day for the hour-long ride and a highlight reel of Narragansett Bay scenery along the way.
Wind turbines lining the Providence River give away to more open waters in the upper bay. From Conimicut Point, the ferry cross over to the East Passage and within 30 minutes chugs by Prudence Island at a cruising speed of about 25 knots. A first glimpse of the Newport Bridge slowly comes into view.
Welcome to a pilot program that is the brainchild of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, which took advantage of a half million federal grant to launch the service on July 1st, just two months after putting out a bid for service.
Its 9-week run will end on Labor Day.
Alviti: ``We’re really pleased, Jim, with the acceptance and use of the ferry system.’’
D.O.T. Director Peter Alviti is keeping a close eye on the new service. And so far, he likes what he sees. Through the first three weeks nearly 12,000 trips have been logged, including more than two dozen sell outs.
Alviti says the idea for ferry service came out of some in-house meetings the department held last year. And it combines two goals.
Alviti: ``Let’s just not look at transportation as being something used to get from Point A to Point B, but also while we’re developing those transportation links, let’s look at the long-term economic benefit of having them.’’
The federal subsidy is officially called the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program - CMAQ for short - and is aimed at getting cars off the street. So these vehicles, parked for free adjacent to the old Shooters nightclub on the Providence Waterfront, are cars that won’t be clogging the streets of Newport. As a longtime boater himself, Alviti knows there is another benefit for hundreds of people going back and forth on Narragansett Bay every day.