Friday, January 13, 2006

Ferry Fatigued, a Hovercraft, and the Monorail Episode from the Simpsons

I'm having trouble getting myself to revisit the whole Fast Ferry situation. It isn't that I don't think it's news worthy, because given the amount of money and time that has been focused on it, this isn't something that should be swept under the rug. However, I also don't want this thing to consume us. There are larger and more pressing things out there. There are projects, like Renaissance Square, that will be forced to live in the shadow of the Spirit of Ontario's collapse. It's important to keep things in their proper perspective or else we run the risk of believing that nothing we do can improve our community. That simply is not true. The reality is that the Fast Ferry project had good intentions at its start, but quickly became about something else: pride. In this case, we proved the cliche Pride goeth before a fall completely true. Mayor Duffy brought the thing to end before things got even further off the tracks.

Many people, including myself, would have liked the ferry to get a fair shot at a full season, but in the business world there are no fair shots. The likelihood that it would have made a difference was small. The business plan should probably have anticipated losses for the first few years of operation. At least it would have had the virtue of being realistic.

Moving on, here's two related things.

Zinnfan, over at Zinnian Democracy, should have gotten an award for this post. I've waited, half-expecting and half-dreading, someone to mention the Simpsons episode where the town gets bamboozaled, "Music Man" style, into building a monorail. The similarities between Springfeild and Rochester were always somewhat alarming. As long as Rochester resists the urge to build an "escalator to nowhere".

Finally, at the end of it, we arrive at the idea of the Rochester to Toronto Fast-Hovercraft. That's when I know I'm fatigued with this whole business. Honestly, if the market will support it as a private venture, nothing would make me happier and it may just give this community some kind of positive closure. It's an interesting proposition that has only received some light reporting in this WROC news article with companion video.

Chapell, of East Rochester, proposes a hovercraft. It's a cross between an airplane and a boat, and can travel up to 80 m.p.h. Chapell says it would use 80 percent less fuel than the ferry, tickets would cost about $10 less, and it would get to Toronto in little more than an hour - twice as fast as the ferry.

"It's going to carry about 100 to 140 people, 10 to 12 cars and do it in an hour," Chapell said.

Perhaps the best selling point in a ferry-weary city is that the $10 million hovercraft would be privately-funded. Chapell says HTS has lined up half of the financing it needs.

"The business model is hands down better than the fast ferry," Chapell said. "Ours is the true fast ferry."

Chapell says HTS would need the city to commit to modest infrastructure improvements at the terminal and the port.

I'd be curious to know what kind of changes need to be made at the Port of Rochester and whether it would have a different environmental impact than the Ferry, but I'm skeptical. Given all that we've seen with this thing, don't show up on the scene and say, "I've got a better business model." We've heard it all before. Navigating the red-tape in these deals is more treacherous than any nautical dangers. Want to level with us? Recognize that fact right up front. But like I said, if you'd like to do it as a private venture? Nothing would make me happier that to see it work.

I've sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook and by gum it put them on the map!