Ferry dust

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Every summer I make the five-hour drive from New York to Hyannis Port, Mass., where I board a ferry for my annual pilgrimage to Nantucket. The ferry boats, while not exactly the last word in comfort -- slow-moving, with uncomfortable wooden benches and lousy food -- retain an air of romance about them, like old wooden roller-coasters and Rheingold beer.

Now it looks as if my faithful old tubs and many others like them across the country are about to find themselves in the crosshairs. According to a San Francisco-based environmental outfit called Bluewater Network, ferries are serious polluters, blowing more garbage into the air per passenger mile than cars and buses combined. Way, way more.

The EPA also has ferries on the brain. It will give operators until 2006 to pare down exhaust emissions by nearly 50%. What that's going to do to the price of a ride for the millions of people in 35 states who ride ferries each year is anybody's guess.

Surprisingly, while a few interested parties dispute the specific numbers, nobody yet has attempted to deny the allegation that ferries are an environmental nightmare. Everybody just seems a little sad that such a gentle mode of transport has to have a downside. I'm not so crazy about it myself.

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