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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Talking Transportation: Why Ferries Aren’t the Answer for CT Commuting

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

Recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $325 million plan to re-introduce ferry boat service to the five boroughs charging the same fare as subways. The mayor says these boats could carry 4.5 million passengers a year.

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So why don’t we have ferries in Connecticut? There are several reasons:

Speed: In open water, fast ferries on the Sound could make 30 knots (35 mph).  But if they must sail up inlets to the downtown areas of Bridgeport, Norwalk or Stamford, that speed is cut to 5 knots, extending travel time.

Docking: To keep to their competitive speeds, docks would have to be located close to the Sound. That’s expensive real estate. And what about parking at those docks, and drive-time on local roads to reach them? Again, more travel time.

Frequency: Metro-North offers trains to midtown New York every 20 minutes in rush hour carrying 800 – 1,000 passengers per train. No ferry service anywhere in the country can compete with that frequency of service. Will travelers really be willing to wait an hour or two for the next boat?

Comfort: In nice weather, a boat ride to work sounds idyllic. But what about in a Nor’easter?  The bumpiest ride on the train pales by comparison.
Fares: The most optimistic of would-be ferry operators in Connecticut estimate their fares will be at least double those charged on the train. And people say Metro-North is too expensive?

Operating Costs: Fast ferries are gas guzzlers, the aquatic equivalent to the Concorde. When the Pequot tribe built high speed catamarans to ferry gamblers to their casino in Connecticut to lose money, the service proved so expensive to run that the Pequots dry-docked the ferries in New London.

Economics: The final reason I don’t think ferries make economic sense is that nobody else does either. Ferry operators (like the near-bankrupt New York Waterways) aren’t stupid. They’ve looked at possible service from coastal Connecticut, crunched the numbers and backed off.

In a free market economy, if a buck could be made running ferries, they’d be operating by now. They aren’t operating, and there are lots of reasons why, many of which I’ve listed.

The only place ferries are run successfully is where they’re heavily subsidized (everywhere), have a monopoly (for example, getting to downtown Seattle from an island suburb), don’t duplicate existing transportation routes (like from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson), or offer advantages of speed because they operate on extremely short runs (from Hoboken to midtown).  Our situation here in Connecticut passes none of those tests.

You already know I’m a train nut. (The bumper sticker on my car reads “I’d Rather Be on the Train.”) And I do love an occasional recreational sail on the Sound. But it’s unrealistic to think that commutation by ferries is in our future. 
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James Cameron (Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are his alone. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  For the full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see http://www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.

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Posted 06/28/16 at 10:47 AM  Permalink



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I often read Jim’s column but most times I just cannot agree with him.  He doesn’t sound like a mass transportation advocate.  The sole purpose of any mass transportation is to remove the individual automobile driver from the road.  Of course mass transportation should be heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, that’s the point!  The concept is to conserve energy, avoid pollution, make the journey, fast, easy and affordable, paid in part by all the taxpayers, to encourage all taxpayers to use it.  Should taxpayers choose not to use the trains or ferries, it’s their loss.  However, the benefits to those who do use the systems are significant.

When I moved to Westport 26 years ago, you could take an express train to Grand Central in about 56 minutes.  Today the fastest express train is 70 minutes!  The curve is going in the wrong direction, it should take 45 minutes, it should be faster not slower!  The cost of rail tickets force a family of four headed to NYC back into the car, it’s dramatically cheaper to drive, pay tolls and pay to park!

Shoreline ferry service would remove cars from I-95.  Coordinated connections to rail lines such as the soon to start Hartford line makes perfect sense.  Think about, before cars and horses, the waterways were the highways. Will anyone deny the fact that traffic on the Merritt Parkway and I-95 has gotten worse over the last 25 years. 

The naysayers are always moaning about the lack of jobs in the state.  Inadequate transportation is certainly not helping the cause.

Someone needs to take a big picture look at this state’s future and formulate a plan involving job creation that includes, in large part, a complete infrastructure rehabilitation and expansion, not focused on more highways!  This is a great state and there is still plenty of money here to justify the undertaking.

Posted by Joseph V. Vallone on June 28, 2016 at 11:22 PM | #