Maine University Tries Out River Ferry as Low-Carbon Transportation Alternative

university of new england river ferry

As someone who’s spent a substantial portion of his working life on college campuses, I know that there’s one universal complaint among students, staff, and faculty, regardless of the institution: there’s nowhere to park! As schools implement more sustainability practices across campus, their reaction to this issue has changed: rather than build new high-rise parking structures, many colleges and universities are looking to change the way people get to campus. Investments in car and bike sharing programs, subsidized transit passes, and online carpooling systems have become much more common in the past few years. Not only do these options save institutions money on building and maintaining parking structures, but they also help with efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

In Biddeford, Maine, students and staff at the University of New England came up with a unique approach to addressing issues with parking, as well as the school’s carbon footprint: they launched what may be the country’s only university-run river ferry service.

Sound like an attempt to garner mentions in the press without necessarily doing much? Yeah, that was my initial reaction, too. But a look at some of the numbers from the first four weeks of running the service shows some impressive results: in giving commuters an alternative to driving to the nearest bridge on on the Saco River, which is nine miles away,  “…the ferry has averaged 73 one-way riders per week and eliminated a total of 300 vehicle trips from local roadways and 2,920 miles worth of carbon emissions.” Professor Noah Perlut, whose Introduction to Environmental Studies class spearheaded this effort (and – disclaimer – whose brother sent me this story), notes

The UNE river ferry accomplishes three things. First, it increases campus sustainability by avoiding up to 18 miles of carbon emissions per rider created by commuting. Second, it is an education tool for the entire UNE community—students, staff and faculty—to study and experience creative models of alternative transportation. Finally, it sails as the most beautiful three-minute commute anywhere in the country.

Of course, this will be a seasonal service – I’d guess a boat would have a hard time crossing any river in Maine in February.  No word on whether the university will provide any kind of transportation alternative in during the Winter.

This strikes me as a great example of looking at the realities in place, and creating a more sustainable solution based upon them. Know of other schools going beyond the norm in terms of addressing parking congestion (and the environmental impact that goes with it)? Do share…

Image credit: University of New England


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *