Greater City Providence

You can get there from here?


Could the Providence-Newport Ferry rise from the dead and return to service this summer? RIPTA is hoping to make it work. As the Journal reports, RIPTA has issued two RFPs. One asks ferry companies to bid for a no-subsidy service. Likely this would be fewer trips and a shorter season than we are used to. The other RFP asks ferry companies to quote what subsidy they would need to provide the previous level of service.

RIPTA announced last year that the ferry would not return this summer due to the end of a half million dollar federal subsidy. At the time I said it was rather short sited of RIPTA not to plan for the end of a subsidy that clearly had an end date. I also questioned how there could be absolutely no way to find a half million dollars to make up for the lost subsidy (of course this was before the economy ‘sploded).

I don’t know where RIPTA is hoping to find the funds for the subsidized RFP, but I hope they can make it work. The ferry was a vital piece of our tourist economy and it is madness for the Ocean State to not have a public ferry service utilizing Narragansett Bay.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Here is a letter about the ticket surcharge last year.

    From that I figured it burns at least 760 gallons of diesel a day.

    The ferry is a fun ride. I have enjoyed it several times. A frequently scheduled, easily accessible boat ride on the bay at a family friendly price is an indispensable part of the amenities we need in place to attract tourists. I wonder however, where this guzzler fits in as transportation policy. Questions:

    Were any commuters who would otherwise travel by car routinely using it?
    How many tourist’s cars does it really remove from the roads to Newport? Most cars can complete a Providence Newport round trip on less than 5 gallons of fuel. Could over 150 round trips be replaced per day? No way, if you consider that every ferry trip does not replace a car trip. Many of those riders would simply not have visited Newport that day if there was no ferry. It undoubtedly facilitates tourism, but the Reduce Congestion and Fight Global Warming cases look pretty weak.

    The high speed nature of the ferry was dictated by the idea that if the ride is longer than driving time, it will not divert passengers from cars. I wonder if information exists about the passengers who actually patronized the ferry? Might it show that a more fuel efficient, slower ride would be just as popular?

    At what fuel price do schooners become economical again? I can hardly wait.

    Happiness is the journey not the destination!

  • I heard, from a reliable source, that the ferry can actually make the trip faster than it does. I think it currently makes the trip in about an hour, and the bus is about an hour (though moving the Providence terminal outside the Hurricane Barrier trimmed some time). Passenger polling revealed that people thought the ride was too fast and they wanted more time to enjoy the Bay, so the ferry runs slightly slower than it could.

    I think commuters aren’t a very big part of the equation because the service was not developed with them in mind. The schedule does not fit to commuter hours, and there are no good fare deals for frequent riders (i.e. commuters). Plus it is seasonal. Boston and New York both run year round commuter ferry services. Occasionally ice conditions force a bustitution, but thanks to global warming, the bay is pretty ice free most of the year. With better scheduling and fare incentives, plus a scaled back winter service catered to commuters, we could likely see more regulars on the ferry.

  • Thanks for the answers.

    Ferries in Boston and NY make sense as permanent transportation facilities because they serve busy routes where alternate travel is circuitous or operating beyond capacity. As much as I love the Prov-Newport ferry, I have trouble imagining its niche being as strong as those. At any fuel price, it ain’t Green, and at several dollars or more per gallon, it is a luxury, not practical routine transportation.

  • It is indeed a luxury. I don’t think it is being marketed as practical routine transportation.

    One could argue that while RIPTA continues to gasp for funds, all available money should be directed towards improving the existing service for commuters. I think the current service cuts are a disgrace and serious improvements with the commuters in mind are desperately needed. However, since RIPTA wants to run the ferry at a seemingly smaller scale without gov’t subsidy, let’s see where this goes and maybe the kids can have some fun too this summer.