High-speed ferries have come to the Great Lakes. A ferry between Toronto and Rochester, New York, is scheduled to start this week – joining another ferry that started earlier this month between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Michigan. But transportation experts say it isn’t clear that the fast ferries will prosper. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
High-speed ferries have come to the Great Lakes. A ferry between Toronto, Canada,
and Rochester, New York, is scheduled to start this week, joining another ferry that
started this month between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Muskegon, Michigan. But
transportation experts say it isn’t clear that the fast ferries will prosper. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
The privately owned Lake Express ferry between Milwaukee and Muskegon cuts across
Lake Michigan at nearly forty miles per hour. Four diesel engines drive high-powered
jets underneath the catamaran-style boat. The jets shoot huge plumes of water out the
back end of the nearly 200 foot-long vessel.
(sound of ferry)
It only takes two and half hours for the Lake Express to make a crossing, about half the
time of an older ferry that travels across northern Lake Michigan. A Milwaukee-based
passenger named Jack says the faster pace is what draws him to the new boat.
“This is quick… we’re all about being quick.”
The Lake Express also has room for 46 cars and smaller vehicles such as motorcycles. A
motorcycle passenger named Bobbie says using the ferry is a breeze, compared to driving
around Lake Michigan and fighting traffic in Chicago.
“Have you ever ridden a motorcycle and had a semi pull up behind you? I mean, it
seemed like he was that far away, maybe two feet, and it’s very frightening and it’s
happened to us several times.”
Some people who study ferries say less stress and time savings are just two of the appeals
of the boats. University of Delaware professor James Corbett says fast ferries have a
certain cachet for the upscale, leisure tourist.
“Fast ferries are very, very attractive first choices when people are considering new
routes… they look for the latest and greatest vessel designs.”
But Corbett says the ferries have several drawbacks. For one thing, the faster boats use
more energy and that helps push up ticket prices. Adult roundtrip fares for the
Milwaukee to Muskegon route start at 85 dollars.
Sue McNeil heads the University of Illinois-Chicago Urban Transportation Center. She
says the fares may scare off repeat business in certain markets.
“Just what I know about travel patterns and where people go, the Rochester-Toronto
seems to make more sense than the Milwaukee to Michigan.”
Still, McNeil says she hopes all the ferries succeed, because they provide another
transportation option. Federal, state and local governments are buying into the concept,
by offering some subsidies to promote the boats and build docking terminals. Chicago
and Cleveland are also looking at adding the faster moving ferries.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.