NEWTON, Mass. It’s 5:15 on a Wednesday morning and Marci Klum-Walz, a mutual fund accountant, is stuck in traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike driving to pick up her daughter at summer camp. “At some point, I’ll give up my car,” she says by cell phone. “That point will probably be Monday,” when a new point-to-point blimp service goes into effect between this western suburb and downtown Boston.
The MBTA, the regional transit authority that serves the greater Boston area, has had a contingency plan involving blimps on the drawing board for three years, and the launch of the supplementary service is set for this coming Monday, July 23rd.
“With fuel costs still high and congestion on major highways reaching a critical mass, we have no alternative but to put commuters into slow-moving, buoyant airships,” says Anne Gerstmeyer, director of operations for the “T’s” newly-created Airborne Division. “They can’t go any slower than the trolleys,” she adds, referring to the light-rail trains that are frequently damaged when they collide with French poodles at grade crossings.
The T has purchased a total of 35 blimps to ferry commuters from the suburbs into Boston in the morning and back again during evening rush hour, and passengers on a weekend trial run say they appreciate the quiet and the smooth ride of the non-rigid airships.
“I never thought I’d get into something like this after seeing the Hindenburg explode,” says Rosa Adamik, an 80 year-old grandmother who watched newsreel footage of the 1937 zeppelin catastrophe in which 36 people died. “This is very nice, although they have the same junk in their in-flight magazines–electric foot warmers and collectible model Corvettes. Who buys that crap?”
Some commuters expressed reservations about the new mode of transportation, questioning whether a blimp could made the last-second stops that riders sometimes call for when they doze off and roll past their bus stop. “I’m going to take a wait-and-see attitude,” said Jerry Nadler, an accountant. “I’ve jumped off a moving bus, but a blimp is another story.”