Ferry Tales (continued)

A smart politician in Northern Virginia will always support proposals to solve the commute-to-DC problem.   A smarter politician would support the most cost-effective solution – and this is not a commuter ferry on the Potomac River.

The draft report on a ferry “route proving exercise” proved that you can take a boat from Occoquan to DC in 100 minutes, even with debris in the water after a rain.  If you jiggle the statistics, by assuming a different boat and no wake restrictions, and assuming Maryland does not object to the noise levels… a ferry might make the one-way trip in 59 minutes.

No matter how you jiggle the financial data, a public subsidy will be required to start up the ferry, and an annual subsidy will be required to keep it running.  If a ferry would get cars off I-95, isn’t it worth it?

Ah, that assumption is the Achilles heel of the ferry tale…

Don’t assume every passenger on a ferry would remove a car off I-95.  Sorry, but that ain’t the case.  Buried on page 93 was a key reason the Board of County Supervisors can be so positive about the ferry report now: “A specific analysis of the modal shift expected as a result of a ferry service was not specifically included as part of the scope of this study.

In other words, there was no consideration of whether the ferry would divert cars off I-95, or just pull from existing Virginia Railway Express (VRE) customers and bus riders.

This “route proving exercise” ducked the hard question: will a ferry undercut the existing commuter rail system, by pulling funds away from VRE?   That question has been answered at least once already.  The Ferry Study completed by the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2000 projected that “A majority (approximately 85%) of persons projected to use the ferry would shift from other transit modes (VRE or bus) under all scenarios shown.

The ferry is not a new-and-improved silver bullet that will solve the transportation nightmare on I-95.  It s a competitor for the existing transit solutions.

Sure, there are some advantages to developing a boat-based transit system.  A ferry on the Potomac could still operate even if the VRE track was blocked, providing an alternative transit option.  If VRE gets overcrowded during rush hour, a ferry could handle some of the commuter traffic.

However, the disadvantage is clear: whatever $$$ we steer towards any new Potomac River ferry are $$$ that we can’t direct towards upgrading VRE and the CommuteRide bus capacity.


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