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!

Warming to the Weather

It's a little more gray today than it was yesterday, but you won't hear me complaining. An excellent day for a hike on the more finished trails at Highland Park and Genesee Valley Park. Given the fantastic tropical heatwave we've got going right now, breaking us from any potential cabin fever, I thought it would be a good chance to break from politics, economics, and all that other stuff and mention something a bit more universally positive: the Monroe County Parks.

Visit the Monroe County Park system homepage and check out the map here.

If you're a city dweller, don't feel left out. Rochester has a great page that tracks a list of all the metropolitian parks as well as trails.

Although the weather should chill considerably this weekend, it's being said that we could see a return to warm temperatures next week. No complaining about 9 months of snow this year. Get out there and enjoy this! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On the Rocks

The city of Rochester is now out of the ferry business. This is a good thing. From the beginning I've been consistant one the fact that a government should focus on governing, not managing a venture better suited to the private sector. However, this is not how I was hoping it would play out. Some did. Some people in the city and county desired and anticipated the endevours failure. I can only imagine these are the same people that watch NASCAR for the crashes, get upset when the TV cameras avoid showing fights at NFL games, and complain about 5 months of snow in Rochester or a lack of snow, whichever position is counter to reality.

These people are going to have a very good day today.

Last night, Mayor Duffy ended the funding of the fast ferry from Rochester to Toronto. The decision, while painful for many, was the right one and easily justified. Simply put, the project had defied all estimates and projections when it came to things involving red ink, and the cost of maintaining it, of one more chances, was taking funding away from other projects that could be more successful. Simply put, it cost more than it was worth.

I understand some folks are going to be concerned with the question,"why approve a $9 million loan when another million would give the ferry another season?" The reasoning here is that $9 million is what it costs to put this boat down for the last time. Effectively, given one more season that fails, you've only deferred that cost as well as racked up another $10 million in additional debt. One way to look at it, is that Mayor Duffy had to decided between a loan to end the ferry of $9 million or a loan to end the ferry after one more season for $19 million (there are additional costs that would make this number higher than $19 million after 1 year, but we should keep this simple).

People will also likely decry that the ferry deserved a full season to show its value. I agree. There was a missed opportunity not having this boat running during the spring. However, if we want to track missed opportunities, weren' there many that we should consider? Pilotage fees on the order of $5000 a day were never resolved. How many riders a day paid money to cover that cost alone? It was wasteful. I'm not saying that it wasn't neccessary or that they weren't working to resolve it. What I'm saying is that the reality of this project wasn't planned for. The complexity of costs, rider demand, and the price structure wasn't realized by those that moved this project forward. Its a sad fact. A mistake I wish wasn't made. But one that will impact many municiple projects for years to come.

More on this later.