High-Speed Ferry From North Station To Seaport Could Launch This Summer

A pilot commuter ferry service carrying passengers from Boston’s North Station to the Seaport District in 13 minutes could begin in late summer.

And unlike the dozens of corporate shuttle buses that the service is designed to replace, the boats would be available to the general public.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) has hired Boston-based engineering consultants STV to develop a business plan for the service, which could be paid through a combination of passenger fares and business subsidies.

“We’re hoping some of the private businesses that are subsidizing their own transportation on land are interested in water,” said James Folk, director of transportation for the MCCA. “We want to open this to the public as well, which would cut down on the subsidies for the businesses.”

The $90,000 study is funded with $30,000 from developers’ payments under state Chapter 91 waterfront regulations and $60,000 from the South Boston Waterfront Sustainable Transportation study completed last year.

Seaport District office landlords including Jamestown and major tenants such as Fidelity Investments and John Hancock have expressed interest in the ferry service, Folk said. The study will evaluate financial models, routes and docking locations. Potential Seaport stops include the Fan Pier, Seaport World Trade Center and Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, he said.

The project requires the installation of a floating dock at Lovejoy Wharf behind the Converse headquarters and developer Related Beal’s new 131 Beverly luxury condo building.

Costs of the dock project are estimated at $1.2 million, said Richard McGuinness, the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s deputy director of waterfront planning. The cost would be covered by a combination of a Massachusetts Department of Transportation grant and Related Beal’s Chapter 91 obligations, which require waterfront developers to improve public access.

At least 4,000 people commute to the South Boston waterfront from North Station, according to transportation studies. The numbers are expected to swell in coming years with millions of square feet of residential and commercial development still to come in the burgeoning job hub.

Private bus shuttles sponsored by companies such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals and PwC fill a gap in the public transit network, with no direct MBTA service to North Station except for one bus route.

The pilot ferry service would run at least every 15 minutes during rush hour, Folk said, and offer some off-peak hour service. The MCCA’s preference is for bow-loading catamaran vessels to minimize loading and trip times.

Only 22 percent of northbound trips from the waterfront take place via public transit, the waterfront transportation study said. The proliferation of private shuttles with duplicate routes is inefficient and creates congestion as buses and vans line up to drop off passengers across from North Station.

Poor transit connections from the North Shore to the Seaport have prompted one congressman, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, to back the proposed North-South Rail Link tunnel between North and South stations. The Baker administration this week authorized a $1.5 million study of the project, which supporters say would create more efficient rail service while eliminating the need for a midday layover storage yard in Boston as part of the South Station expansion project.