The trip was short and expensive, and the passengers – a whole community taken for a ride – are feeling the pinch.
However you cut it, the fast ferry that was originally sold as an “economic engine” will leach tens of millions of dollars more from the public purse - and some ancillary private businesses - before this transportation fiasco is over.
How could anyone have failed to see this was the final destination?
Even before fuel prices spiked, the ferry was simply too expensive to run. Every round-trip to Toronto burned up more than 7,000 gallons of marine diesel – roughly $10,500 worth a couple years ago, and $14,000 today. Let’s assume each passenger paid $100 for the round-trip: this means the ferry needed the proceeds from 140 passengers just to pay the fuel bill. But as winter began, the ferry was reportedly carrying fewer than 100 – sometimes as few as 40 - passengers per trip. So if the ferry was financially viable, it was only during the warmer months. And you can’t maintain an operation like this year-round on the strength (if that’s the word) of its fair-weather performance.
Local commentators are now lamenting the loss to Rochester’s image. Seems we needed a flagship project to boost our self-confidence. But I think that line of thinking is as off-track as the ferry project was.
Never mind images – we’re talking transportation here, the most down-to-earth of basic services. What the region needs is not confidence building, but real-world engagement with projects that will simultaneously improve mobility and preserve the environment.
The starting point is a comprehensive transportation plan that deals with everything from sidewalks and pedestrian routes to streetcars and inter-city rail. And such planning starts with service within the community: i.e. developing the most efficient, most environmentally-friendly ways to get people where they need to be for work, leisure, and culture.
Is it too much to ask that we get on with this - instead of succumbing to the next razzle-dazzle fantasy that drops anchor here?
Sidebar: A couple of weeks ago, WXXI talk-show host Bob Smith took yet another call about Rochester’s need to develop light rail. And once again, Smith bleated in response (I’m paraphrasing): Fine, but where are we going to find the several hundred million dollars? Well, Bob, we’ll divert some of the money that now goes for unnecessary roadways, ill-fated boats, decorator bridges, and (worst “transportation” scheme of all) expeditionary military forces. Radio personalities can help by acknowledging the possibilities, not drowning them with the flip equivalent of “We can’t afford it.”