As a regular on the Peter Pan bus route to and from Boston, I’m used to squeezing my backpack down the cramped aisle, finding a window seat, and buckling in for what could be anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to a three-hour ride to my destination. For the $35 I pay to get home, I can usually get passible Wi-Fi, and a moderately comfortable ride that lessens the burden on my parents, who just want to be able to give me a hug when they get home from work.
Recently, while planning a trip with friends from Boston to spend time at my house for the weekend, I had to come to terms with just how expensive it can be to get to the Cape, let alone the Island. I couldn’t ask my friends to shell out $70 minimum to come to me, when we are all in the same broke-college-student boat.
Then I remembered the Cape Flyer. My great-uncle is a railroad aficionado on the Cape, and always rides the Flyer for its first run from Boston to the Cape for the year. As someone who favors public transportation over ride-share services for environmental and cost-effective purposes, the Flyer was an appealing choice. So, when I saw his yearly post, I picked up my phone and checked out the Cape Flyer’s website. Noting a new stop in Bourne, I shot a message to the group chat, and the plan was set — we would take the $20 Cape Flyer on Friday, May 31.
The Cape Flyer kicked off its season Memorial Day weekend, offering service from Boston’s South Station to Hyannis, with stops in Braintree, Brockton, Middleboro/Lakeville, Wareham, Buzzards Bay, and adding a new stop in Bourne.
“We’ve been pushing for this for a couple of years,” Tom Cahir, administrator for the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (Cape Cod RTA), told The Times.
“For all of the seven years that the train has been running, I would go over to the Buzzards Bay station to count how many people were getting off the train there as opposed to going to Hyannis,” explained Cahir. “Twenty-five to 27 percent of the train got off. I watched with interest how many of those people just had to get on a bus to go over the bridge, and it was essentially every single one.”
The Cape Flyer, a modified Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) commuter rail train equipped with a refreshment car and bike car, is meant to help those visiting the Cape sans car to avoid the traffic that clogs the bridges each summer. “We try to keep the trip as close to two hours as possible,” Cahir said. The Steamship Authority (SSA) and Cape Cod RTA were providing buses to those headed to ferries and the Upper Cape previously, but those buses were subject to the same irritating traffic that passengers were trying to avoid by taking the Flyer, Cahir said.
With the addition of the Bourne station, located at 21 Bourne Bridge, Bourne (essentially, right under the Bourne Bridge on the Cape side), the Cape Flyer helps to fulfill its goal of efficiently transporting passengers from the Boston area to the Cape without the pains of traffic.
“Very rarely do we have to call the Steamship or Hy-Line to hold a boat,” Kathleen Jensen, marketing with the Cape Flyer, said. The Flyer is prompt, rolling out of South Station at 5:50 pm on Friday nights, and 8 am on Saturdays and Sundays, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Those looking to connect with SSA boats can meet the SSA shuttle directly from the Flyer when it arrives in Bourne, communications director for the SSA, Sean Driscoll, explained. Shuttles are also offered following the 5:45 pm arrival in Woods Hole of the 5 pm boat from Vineyard Haven on Saturdays and Sundays to meet the Flyer on its return trip to Boston.
The Cape Cod RTA provides transportation to Upper Cape towns, with stops in Bourne and Falmouth from the Bourne station, even transporting passengers to the Island Queen ferry on Friday evenings, catering even more to the carless clientele, Jensen and Cahir said.
Cahir, a lifelong resident of Bourne, former state representative, and former deputy secretary of transportation, has been making the case for a Bourne station for years, he told The Times. “[The station] is perfectly situated,” Cahir said, “Buses can go right up onto the highway — they can even avoid the rotary.”
The trip on the Flyer was truly a breeze. My two friends in tow, we arrived at South Station at around 5:30 pm and immediately boarded the 5:50 pm train to friendly welcomes, relaxing music, and to our surprise, ended up in the refreshment cart. We watched as the family across from us settled in with their adorable dog, glasses of wine in hand, clearly relaxed, and ready for a stress-free trip to the Cape.
Aside from one of our friends missing our train because of work (sorry, Melanie, but at least you eventually made it), the ride went off without a hitch. The Friday-night schedule coincides with the summer sunset, and when we got to the Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge, the views were astounding — cameras came out of pockets in an instant to capture the rare occasion. In just under two hours, we were Canalside, and ready for a Cape adventure, our energy spared from fights with rush hour and the inevitable bridge traffic.
Cahir’s requests for the Bourne station were not without opposition. When he first approached Bourne selectmen, they didn’t understand the reason for the Flyer’s proposition, and felt it would only worsen traffic. Cahir and the Flyer team were not quick to give up, however. The MBTA had set aside a budget for a “grandiose renovation” of the Buzzards Bay station, Cahir said, and he instead pressed them about why they were spending their money on this renovation rather than opening the proposed station.
Cahir used connections he had established to work with the MBTA, who were supportive of the Cape Cod RTA’s efforts, to build the mobile, temporary, ADA-compliant platform that now stands in Bourne. The platform is made of old bridge debris, and has a solar canopy, resulting in no utility costs. The station is temporary, Cahir said, only in name, and to appease opposition that neighbors had voiced. “I see it as permanent,” he said.
Cahir said the Flyer has slightly lost sight of the goal of being as direct from South Station to Hyannis as possible, but the trip remains close to two hours. “I’ve never had anyone concerned with the length of time,” he said.
With bus services on the same route ringing up nearly a $35 price tag one way, the $20 one-way, or $35 round-trip ticket to Bourne on the Cape Flyer feels like a bargain to many riders, especially considering the scenic route, lack of traffic, and refreshment cart. The Flyer has a summery playlist going at all times, is pet-friendly (one of my favorite parts, the dogs we came across were adorable), offers a bike storage car, and has options for a senior discount, additional benefits not found on the traditional bus. Kids 11 and under ride free when accompanied by a paying adult, according to the Cape Flyer website.
As for expansion of the train’s services beyond the addition of the new station, Cahir said that those questions come up daily. “For a number of reasons, we don’t intend to expand beyond the weekend service for the first 15 weeks of summer,” he said. While the Cape Cod RTA does coordinate with the MBTA to play holidays by ear and throw in extra days, expansion of services is not cost-effective for the RTA, which is responsible for the operating costs. While I wish there was a commuter service similar to this year-round, to make the city to Island trek less miserable, it’s understandably a burden for a regional transit authority.
The Flyer has already added extra service for the days surrounding the Fourth of July, according to their website and confirmed by Cahir. The train will run on a Friday schedule on Wednesday, July 3, and on the Saturday/Sunday schedule on Thursday, July 4. The SSA confirmed that they will be operating shuttle services in tandem with the Flyer. “We’ve been partnering with the Cape Flyer from the beginning,” Driscoll said. “[The Bourne station] makes it easier on us — we don’t have to fight bridge traffic.”
This season, 144 people have used the SSA’s services to and from their Woods Hole terminal and the Bourne station, several with bikes in tow. It seems, according to trends shared with The Times by the SSA, that the service is only becoming more popular as the season picks up, with numbers more than doubling this past weekend. Sixteen passengers used the shuttle to Woods Hole Friday night, June 7, compared to six on Friday, May 31.
I for one, am looking forward hopefully to riding the Flyer again to come back to my favorite place to spend Independence Day — right here on the Island.
“There’s a huge benefit,” Cahir said of the new Bourne station.
More information on the Cape Flyer, including schedules, stations, and fares, can be found at bit.ly/CapeFlyer.