I’ve written in the past about some folks’ crazy idea that ferry boats are the solution to our traffic problems along I-95. They are not. But they do prove useful when they take you where the roads and rails can’t, like across Long Island Sound.
The first ferry ran this 18-mile route in 1872. By 1883 permanent service was offered by a company owned in part by Bridgeport’s PT Barnum (after whom one of the line’s current vessels is named). In 1980 all-season service began with the line’s largest vessel, “The Grand Republic”.
The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company is 100% owned by Brian McAllister, a fourth generation seaman and tugboat czar who lives on Long Island. You’ll usually see one of his tugs in Port Jeff’s harbor.
Each of the line’s three ferries is “RO-RO”, for roll-on, roll-off. At Bridgeport, cars and trucks drive on from the rear and exit in Port Jefferson by driving off thru the raised bow of the vessel. The ferries can carry between 90 and 110 vehicles and a thousand passengers.
The crossing takes about an hour and a quarter but you can save considerable time, tolls and aggravation by avoiding driving to New York City and crossing the Whitestone or Throgs Neck bridges.
When it began, the ferries carried food grown on Long Island to industrial cities in New England. Today you’ll still see an occasional truck ferrying seafood, but most of the traffic is tourists and business people.
In season, all three vessels are in operation allowing for almost hourly departures. If you’re bringing a vehicle a reservation is a good idea, though on most weekday runs you can just drive right up and catch the next boat.
The vehicle unloading and re-loading process is smooth and when passengers leave their cars they can join foot passengers upstairs at the snack bar or cocktail lounge. In good weather the sundeck affords a wonderful view. There’s Wi-Fi available on board and cell-phone signals are strong, even in the middle of the Sound.
In Bridgeport, the ferry dock is a two-minute walk from Metro-North. But in Port Jefferson it’s about a 25-minute walk from the dock to the nearest Long Island Railroad station. Taxi service is available at both terminals.
Fares aren’t cheap: $54 for a car and driver, $15 for each additional passenger. Foot passengers are $18 one-way, $26 for same-day round trip. Seniors (age 60+) are $13 one-way, $18 for a same-day return. Kids 12 and under are always free when traveling with an adult.
There was talk a few years ago of offering additional service from New Haven to Port Jeff. More recently there was discussion of also running to Stamford and from there to NYC using a high speed ferry, but rising fuels costs sunk those plans.
The current ferries are hardly high speed… just 17 mph according to my GPS on a recent crossing. But they’re a fun way to travel, avoiding the traffic mayhem of New York City when going from Connecticut to Long Island.
JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 21 years. He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com