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Remember the Rochester Fast Ferry?

27 Jun

Via Wikipedia

About 10 years ago, the City of Rochester invested in a fast ferry service between that city and Toronto. The service ran into cost overruns, fuel fees it couldn’t afford, and maintenance issues almost immediately. Per the Wikipedia article, these problems doomed the service from day 1:

  • Slow progress by the Toronto Port Authority in constructing a permanent ferry terminal in Toronto. The delays in getting even temporary terminal facilities built in Toronto during the spring of 2004 was another reason for forcing a delay in starting the service until mid-June.

  • CATS felt that it was being charged excessive Canadian customs and immigration costs. U.S. port of entry services were being provided in Rochester at no cost to CATS whereas Canadian port of entry services had to be completely covered by the company, resulting in a hidden charge on each ticket price.

  • CATS blamed U.S. customs for not giving approval for the Spirit of Ontario I to carry freight trucks and express cargo, claiming that this altered the original business plan.

  • CATS endured criticism from both nations for a decision to have Spirit of Ontario I registered under the flag of Bahamas, a flag of convenience nation, allegedly for taxation purposes. CATS was able to do this since the vessel was operating in an international service; additionally, since the Spirit of Ontario I was a foreign-built vessel, CATS would have had to pay significant penalties were it to register the vessel in either Canada or the U.S. (particularly the U.S., given the domestic-content restrictions of the Jones Act).

  • Because of the foreign flag registry for Spirit of Ontario I, CATS was required to pay for pilotage services on every crossing (approx. $6000 per crossing). Canadian and U.S. registered vessels are exempt from requiring the services of pilots while navigating on the Great Lakes.

A last-ditch attempt to have a professional ferry company run the service didn’t work, and the ship was sold in 2006. The crossing took just over 2 hours at high speeds – significantly less than the approximately 4 hour drive around the lake. 

Now? The ferry is running between Aarhus and Kalundborg in Denmark, after a 5-year stint running service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangier, Morocco. 

Here’s the current route: 

The boat today: 

Via Wikipedia

And the Spanish route: 

It made the crossing from Europe to Africa in 35 minutes. 

Via Wikipedia

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The Williamsville Tolls Are Nobody’s Golden Goose

2 Aug

They’ve been talking about and doing the inevitable, repetitive “studies” to determine how, when, and where they might move the Williamsville toll plaza a bit further East and possibly upgrade the facility to work better. We are still using 1920s technology in 2013 – we actually hire human beings to take toll tickets from a dispenser and hand them  to non-transponder motorists. Is there some compelling reason why we need to pay someone 50 large to act as a middleman between the ticket dispenser and you? Except for job #1 being “don’t kill the job”, no. 

Frankly, the upgrades the Thruway Authority is planning, suck. “Could possibly include 35-mph E-ZPass toll lanes to to cut down on traffic jams” is the Thruway Authority taking a pointed stick and jamming it in your eye. 35 MPH? 

There are massive flaws with the existing Williamsville tolls. Firstly, for some reason upstate toll plazas do not adhere to the downstate toll plaza rule that commercial trucks stay to the right and leave the E-ZPass lanes towards the left for car traffic. Secondly, we have absolutely zero number of high-speed E-ZPass plazas here, and it doesn’t sound like we’re going to get any.  35 MPH is not high-speed; it is well below regular highway speeds.  Your E-ZPass and license plate are perfectly capable of being read at regular highway speeds. In Florida, they make non-transponder traffic pull to a plaza on the side of the road while transponder traffic just keeps moving at 65 MPH. The 407 in Toronto has no toll plazas at all – it takes a picture of your plate and sends you a bill.

Florida

 

Toronto’s 407 uses the Ferrovial “Free Flow” toll collection system

Thirdly, if the plaza was re-made to accommodate high-speed transponder traffic, you eliminate a lot of noise and pollution from idling vehicles, and you can move the plaza further east to not only enlarge the toll-free commuter area for Buffalo, but also to alleviate Main Street traffic and put the plaza somewhere in the middle of nowhere farmland to minimize NIMBYism.

The Clarence town board debated the issue this week, and Supervisor David Hartzell voted against a resolution in favor of moving the plaza East. He explained that the toll plaza is

the town’s “golden goose,” because of the traffic it drives there. Take away the barrier, he said, and “Transit Road would just dry up.” 

That’s nonsense. Pembroke is within the toll area, and Route 77 isn’t some five-lane juggernaut of strip plazas and Wal*Marts. Transit Road isn’t what it is today because of the location of a toll barrier in Williamsville. On the contrary, Main Street in Williamsville is the mess it is today because of the toll barrier – people use Main Street to avoid the barrier, which backs up much more often and worse than exit 49 at Transit. Bernie Kolber has it right, but only partly.

The present location of the Williamsville toll barrier hinders economic activity, wastes travelers’ time, wastes fuel, adds to traffic congestion on adjacent roads, decreases efficiency of travel, contributes to air pollution and in general detracts from the quality of life of suburban residents,” he said, arguing that improving the current barrier won’t solve those problems. 

You need to do both. If the Thruway insists on maintaining tolls on a road that was supposed to be toll-free when it was paid off in 1997, then it needs to do so in a way that is most beneficial to motorists. Furthermore, it should move the toll barrier back from Williamsville to somewhere between exits 48A and 49. There is plenty of emptiness in that stretch to minimize difficulty for nearby residents. Hell, you could put it near the quarry between Gunnville and Harris Hill Roads – if Buffalo Crushed Stone doesn’t bother you, neither will a state-of-the-art high-speed (not 35 MPH, but 65 MPH) toll plaza. 

Then trucks and other traffic coming from points east will more readily use the Thruway to access the 290 and 33, and alleviate the through traffic now congesting Main Street in Williamsville, which is planning traffic calming and other measures to render that ugly five-lane mess something more pedestrian-friendly. 

Or maybe we can just pretend it’s still 1965, and hire state workers to make us stop so they can hold our E-ZPasses up to the windshield for us before we pass through.