May 19, 2013
Written by Jim Cameron
Tuesday, 01 June 2010 14:49
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 five knots, losing precious travel time.
Docking: To keep to 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 travel time on local roads to reach them? Again, more lost travel time.
Frequency: Metro-North offers trains to midtown New York every 20 minutes in rush hour. 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 blizzard? The bumpiest ride on the train pales by comparison.
Fares: The most optimistic of would-be ferry operators estimate their fares will be at least double those charged on the train. And people say Metro-North is too expensive?
Operating costs: One reason fares would be so high is fast ferries are gas-guzzlers, the aquatic equivalent to the Concorde. When the Pequot Indians built high-speed catamarans to ferry gamblers to their casino in Connecticut to lose money, the service cost so much that the Pequots dry-docked the ship in New London.
Competition: When a private operator tried to run ferry service from Glen Cove Long Island to midtown, paralleling a route well served by the Long Island Railroad, it shut down after just a few months because it couldn’t compete with the trains. Coastal Connecticut is already well served by fast, efficient rail service, so why duplicate what already works?
A proposed ferry from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., stopping in Norwalk en route to Martha’s Vineyard, might be a viable alternative to crush hour on I-95. But they’re talking about one-way fares of $200 per person. My biggest chuckle about the plan came when a Norwalk city official suggested islanders might use it to visit Norwalk for a vacation. Oh, really?
The final reason I don’t think ferries make economic sense is that nobody else does. Ferry operators (such as 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, and there are lots of reasons, many of which I’ve listed.
The only place ferries are running 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 (such as 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 matches 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 just unrealistic to think commutation by ferries is realistically in our future.
Sorry Tinker Bell. I’m not clapping.
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