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Monday, 14 November 2005
You can't get there from here
Topic: environment
All of a sudden, the PR on the fast ferry has gone into slow-pitch mode. This might have something to do with newly-released September ridership figures, which hit local businesspeople – especially those invested in northernmost Charlotte – like a faceful of cold water. Just under 26,000 were taken for a ride that month.

That comes to about 300 per trip, down from 400 in August but up in comparison to July, says the Democrat and Chronicle. Remember that the ship’s capacity is 774 passengers, not to mention the vehicular payload.

So the policy question is moving quickly from how much public subsidy will be required to a more serious one: will the ferry service survive?

I hope sanity will prevail. That won’t necessarily mean pulling the plug on the ferry; it makes sense to use the direct water route to Toronto. But what’s needed is a much smaller boat, one that carries only people and human-powered vehicles. Such a boat would consume far less diesel fuel, produce far less air pollution, leave a gentler wake, and actually get drivers off the road. This less-is-more service could also serve other Lake Ontario ports – maybe stops in Orleans County or Niagara, etc. True, this would still be a ferry in search of subsidies. But it would justify public investment by delivering a few social benefits.

Still, all routes considered, rail is the way to go. (See my earlier enviro/transport blog posts.)

A word about bus service. Now, I know that even political lefties prefer to tackle this subject only in the abstract; it’s taken for granted that buses are for “marginal” populations. But until the day of light rail dawns here again, the RTS system practically defines public transportation in Rochester.

Well, defining is one thing, but getting decent subsidies is quite another. Never mind the $230 million Renaissance Square, the Big Mac of bus terminals. The bus system is chronically underfunded, and its negatives – above all, insufficient service on major and minor routes and lack of amenities at stops – are ever with us.

Once in a while I take the RTS back and forth to Newark, Wayne County. It’s convenient – especially with the bike racks that are mounted on all RTS buses – and the vehicles are pleasant and well-maintained. It’s great to watch the countryside through the seasons, and as rail-and-bus commuters everywhere know, the trip is a time for reading or meditation or napping, not a two-fisted, steering-wheel-gripping slalom through rush hour. The price is right, too: only a bit more than three bucks for a 30-mile trip.

But just a couple months ago, RTS cut its Route 92 service to Newark in half. There are now only two round-trips daily, one early morning and one early evening – and none on weekends. I’m sure RTS officials would rather have kept the old schedule, but I know the underlying (and unspoken) societal excuse for keeping the service to a minimum: “In an era of finite resources, we must make hard choices,” and similar bullshit.

There’s some pseudo-philosophy at work, too. Just as it’s axiomatic that only poor people ride the bus, so it is expected that poor people will adjust their lives and schedules to the bus company’s needs, not vice versa.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:09 EST
Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005 12:17 EST
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