Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday search challenge (4/18/12): How many people cross the waters?

I fly in and out of Logan Airport fairly often.  One of the ways I get from the airport to downtown is by taking a small boat across the water to my destination on Long Wharf.  

Amazingly enough, the city actually operates a small armada of vessels to move people around the area. 

Today’s question is an instance of investigative reporting.  Can you:

   1.  Figure out what this little fleet is called?
   2.  Find out the number of people carried by this
        small set of boats on an average weekday? 

Ideally, you want to have at least 2 decent sources.  (And, to simply, getting an estimate from sometime in the past couple of years would be fine.  Getting the numbers for 2011 would be perfect, but I’ll be happy with number from 2008 or so.) 

As always, be sure to tell us HOW you found the answers and HOW LONG it took you to find out! 

Search on! 


  1. So first, "getting to logan by ferry" -- it seemed to me that the pages I'm looking for would be aimed at (text-wise) people who want to do that, rather than people looking for names of things.

    This got me to, I think, the T Harbor Express -- though it looks like your specific line is the F2.

    I settled on 'ridership' as a word I'd heard before and that seemed specific to people who talk about transit. "T Harbor Express ridership boston" got me to a 2004 report by the state that put ridership at 5K, but that's an old figure.

    The wikipedia article on the MBTA had a ridership footnote that led me to a pdf from last year in which the American Public Transit Authority puts the MBTA's ferryboat weekday average ridership at 4,100. However, given that this is an organization that lobbies for Transit, I wouldn't be particularly surprised if this was a less-than-conservative estimate.

    In any event, these (whopping) two data points are in line with a 2008 story in the Globe indicating that ridership on MBTA ferries was trending downward on certain lines, so if I had to buy sandwiches to feed everyone on these ferries, I guess I'd go somewhere in the 4K range.

    Finding the lines themselves was easy -- 1 min, with an additional 1 min to try to distinguish what they're called by locals from what the MBTA calls them.

    Ridership, I mean, I've got figures after 10 minutes, but I feel like I'm not going to get much closer to certainty without hopping on the phone.

  2. The fleet is called T Harbor Express, and it took less than two minutes to find this answer.

    I found the vessel capacity (149) easily as well.

    In FY2005, the MBTA boat system carried 4,650 passengers per weekeday. It took about four minutes for me to find that answer (Wikipedia)

  3. Answers:

    - MBTA Harbor Express
    - Avg. weekday ridership in FY2008 for routes F2 & F2H was 881
    - Avg. weekday ridership in FY2011 for routes F2 & F2H was between 907-1273 (see below)


    Search [boston logan airport wharf water taxi]
    lead to

    Despite this site being focused on Washington, D.C., its page on Logan Airport Water Taxi revealed the name of the service as the "MBTA Harbor Express".

    Search [MBTA Harbor Express ridership]
    lead to

    That document is titled "Ridership and Service Statistics, Thirteenth Edition, 2010." Chapter 5A covers ferry service and describes the "Harbor Express" as routes F2 and F2H. The chapter contains a table, "Ferry Average Weekday Ridership." Depending on how you define "this small set of boats," the average weekday ridership for FY2008 ranges from 504 (F2 only) to 4,137 (all ferry routes: Commuter Ferries F1, F2, F2H + Inner Harbor Ferries F4).

    Finding these two pages took about 5 minutes.

    A subsequent search [2011 F2 F2H ridership]
    lead to

    This is an Excel spreadsheet from the Patriot Ledge newspaper (Quincy, MA) with up-to-date ridership numbers broken out by route. However, the numbers are only reported on a monthly basis, leaving the weekday computation to the reader.

    From this document, FY2011 total ridership for routes F2 and F2H was 331,039. Depending on whether you divide by 365 days or (52 weeks x 5 days/week) = 260 days, this yields an average weekday ridership of between 907 and 1273.

    Finding this additional source and crunching the numbers took another 5 minutes.

  4. The MBTA has four different water taxi routes, operated by private contractors under MBTA supervision as part of the "Water Transportation Network", but popularly called The Ferry. The MBTA owns two of the Inner Harbor vessels, "Lightning" and "Flying Cloud." As of 2010, the other vessels are named: Aurora, Nora Vittoria, Matthew J. Hughes, Massachusetts, Salacia, James J. Doherty, Voyager III, Anna, Rita, and Rookie.

    In 2009, the average weekly ridership on the boats was 4,137, which was slightly down from the 2008 number of 4,446.

    This didn't take long at all, and I didn't get two different sources. I'm from Massachusetts, and my father works for MBCR, which was spun off from Amtrak to run the southern commuter lines that lead up to Boston. Prior knowledge made this easy. I went to the MBTA website and clicked on the Boat icon to see if there was some nickname I was unaware of (we just called it the Ferry, or the T Boat) and found the system map where it was labeled The Water Transportation Network.

    Then I went and used's search window to search for "Ridership Statistics" and came up with the Ridership and Service Statistics report for 2010, commonly called the Blue Book. Using Ctrl-F, I found the part of the document that dealt with the Ferry, and got all of my data from there.

    5 minutes, tops.

    But I guess I could always just call my dad.

    1. Where's the Edward Rowe Snow? seems to have been around in 2008>, interesting back story on Mr. Snow:
      Flying Santa
      MBTA Boat water taxi ers

  5. The boats are known as "Boston's Best Cruises" and 4,429 people ride them on an average day according to It took me about 15 minutes to find this. First I had to figure out where Logan Airport was (forgive me!), then Googled "Logan Airport to downtown" and did some variations of the search to establish the name of the transit authority and "Boston's Best Cruises." I did different searches about statistics and various names of the authority to find the 2009 statistics, then did another search to find the 2011 statistics (which are much harder to read).

  6. Easy part is the fleet name. I happen to live here in Boston, and it is called the Logan Airport Water Taxi.

    For ridership, I used the 2010 Blue Book, which has data from 2009:

    According to that, MBTA claims average weekday ridership of 368 in 2009, and 446 in 2008.

    Total time spent researching: approx 25 minutes. Time of that allocated to figuring out where the Logan to Long Wharf route was included in the data: approx 10 minutes.

  7. MBTA Harbor Express; 1.32 M daily ridership as of FEB 2012. Searched for "Logan airport long wharf water taxi", followed the third link as it talked about direct from Logan to Long Wharf, found the MBTA website, looked for performance numbers on their website, found their regularly published scorecard which had ridership numbers and deltas over time.

  8. 1 Inner Harbor Ferry (MBTA)

    2 942 In Fiscal year 2009

    I am familiar with Boston public transportation, so i searched for the latest ridership report --The 2010 edition of MBTA Ridership and Service Statistics (“The Blue Book”). The 2011 edition has not been released yet. I didn't look for more recent statistics even though I'm sure they released them when discussing the latest round of fare increases and nudget cuts.

    About 5 minutes.

  9. 1.) MBTA Ferry
    2.) 4,137 (as of 2009)

    I live in Boston, so I know its the MBTA.
    A search of the MBTA Ferry ridership brought me to the Ridership and service Statistics (Bluebook) of 2010. That had the average ridership for 2009. I can't seem to find the 2011

    Inner Harbour ferry, and Commuter Boat
    Inner Harbour carried 4650 psgrs./weekday in FY 2005
    If you divide a full year below by 261, you will have an est. nr. of psgrs. per weekday
    FY 2012 848,150 to date
    FY 2011 1,309,298
    FY 2010 1,302,143 inc. Tall Ships in July 2009
    FY 2009 1,209,478
    FY 2008 1,295,373
    FY 2007 1,405,835
    FY 2006 1,338,992
    source: Patriot Ledger spreadsheet
    I started by Googling 'Long Wharf ferry'
    signed - Jim Harris

  11. 1. The MBTA Boat
    2. 4500 in 2008, 3960 in Feb 2012 (estimate)

    First searched for "Logan Airport" to find it was in Boston. Then searched for "boston long wharf" to find the Wikipedia article, which led to the MBTA page. Then searching for "mbta ridership" leads to a page on the MBTA site about offering free WiFi on the boats from 2008 that mentions 4500 daily commuters. On the MBTA site the ScoreCards give the daily usage for the whole system and not for just the boats. However the daily average for Feb 2012 is 1.32 million and the percentage boat ridership was 0.3% so I estimated the daily boat usage at 3960.

  12. I would say MBTA, with numbers:

    About 10 minutes to find.