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Are more harbor ferries in Boston’s future?

JOHN BLANDING/GLOBE STAFF/File

An MBTA ferry in Boston Harbor.

By Jon Chesto Globe staff 

The East River that separates Brooklyn from Manhattan is teeming with ferries, thanks in part to hefty city subsidies. Ridership has exceeded expectations, and more routes are in the works.

Could Boston benefit from such ferry magic?

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Boston Harbor Now, backed by state and foundation funding, has been busy studying how to expand ferry service here. The nonprofit unveiled a dozen-plus preferred sites to state transportation officials on Monday, based on its market research. Some involve existing routes — including the Salem terminal or the Hingham-Rowes Wharf service — that could be altered or expanded. Other spots, such as Columbia Point or Lewis Mall in East Boston, would be new ferry destinations.

Boston Harbor Now’s Alice Brown says that list will be narrowed down to the three most economically viable routes in the spring, and business plans will be crafted to make them a reality within five years.

The harbor’s current ferry network is a bit haphazard, with only three official MBTA departure points for downtown-bound commuters (Hingham, Hull, and Charlestown). Quincy residents have hitched a ride on Winthrop’s seasonal boat. The fate of the Lynn ferry, also seasonal for now, remains an open question.

There will soon be a welcome addition: The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority is leading an effort to launch a water shuttle between North Station (Lovejoy Wharf) and the Seaport (Fan Pier) in the spring. It will be funded by Seaport landlords, but the general public will be able to pay to climb aboard.

The subsidies here probably won’t compare to New York’s big bucks. But ferry enthusiasts still hope the harbor can act as an important relief valve to ease the congestion that bedevils Boston commuters.