Remember the Rochester Fast Ferry?

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


  • Ro/Pax ferry operations are a tough dollar to turn. Fuel, maintenance and crew costs eat up just about all of your profits so being able to keep the boat consistently full is essential to keep it in the black. This plan while well-intentioned suffered from too much arm-length involvement from both sides of the border, and the vessel owner obviously did not want to go through the requisite hoops to get a Jones Act waiver for the ship since they wanted it operating elsewhere over the winter months.

  • Having lived most my life in Rochester, I definitely remember the Fast Ferry Fiasco. You have pretty well nailed down all the reasons why it did not work. What you fail to point out is, why?

    The Ferry was a result of a community organizer who got into government and thought that government could create jobs and operate business. Mayor Bill Johnson did a real good job running the Urban League, ran a great campaign to become the cities first African American mayor (The current Mayor Lovely Warren has to accept the title first “African American Female”). Nobody wanted the Ferry, people said they would not take it, but that did not deter Mayor Bill. In Obama like fashion he rammed it through like it was health care reform. The people as threatened did not use it. All the problems would have been null if they filled the thing up.

    When Mayor Duffy took office, almost as soon as his hand left the bible after he was sworn in he said that the Fast Ferry would go away, (he never campaigned on it as an issue) Former Mayor Bill was pissed and said so in public. Naturally Duffy was accused of being a racist, good thing he was a Democrat or it might have had legs.

    Sean Danvers is right, it was well intentioned, Alan Bedenko is right in seeing the problems. The real problem was a government venture that had no idea of the pitfalls of business. As a result millions were lost at the expense of taxpayers, but that never stopped government before.

    • Actually, Alan DOES point out why the boat failed. What he does NOT do is point it out in a way that lines up with your glaringly obvious political slant.

      • Yes and the war in Iraq was just a series of missteps and poorly executed policies. Abu Ghirab was just a few bad apple contractors gone sour. I am sure it was never a bad idea to begin with?? Bush was a stupid fool for getting us into it.

        Does that line up with my glaringly obvious political slant too?

    • Explain to me how the ACA was “rammed through” as my memory was that is was voted on by the congress……

  • One thing from RocWiki you fail to quote was

    In 2008, the Fast Ferry was voted “Best Misuse of Public Funds” in City Newspaper’s ‘Best Of’ Awards.1

    That was from City newspaper, a ultra left leaning local rag that mainly reports on Gay culture in rochester.

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