Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Cleveland-to-Canada ferry service studied

Would people favor the boat over 2-hour drive to Port Stanley?

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - A ferry that would carry cars, trucks and passengers from a downtown dock across Lake Erie to a port in Canada is being studied as a way of increasing use of the city's lakefront.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority plans to pay TranSystems Corp. up to $400,000 to study commercial and passenger demand for ferry service. Results are expected in February.

The ferry would travel to Port Stanley, Ontario, about 130 miles and a 2-hour drive from both Detroit and Toronto.

The Cleveland office of TranSystems, based in Kansas City, Mo., will estimate the number of daily trips and analyze the type of service best suited for the route, including ticket cost, crossing time and on-board amenities.

A ferry would help tourism, reduce truck traffic on highways and help Cleveland increase its lakefront use, said Gary Failor, the port's executive director.

The study is part of a million-dollar ferry-feasibility project, paid for mostly with federal money.

In March, the port authority signed a $250,000 contract with Stuart Theis, former president of the Oglebay Norton shipping company's Great Lakes fleet and its dock operations, to manage the study.

If it indicates ferry service would be profitable, the next steps would include choosing a route, creating a marketing plan, finding an operator and building a terminal.

Various operators have flirted with the idea of restoring a Cleveland-to-Canada route since the service ended a half-century ago. But lack of money or expertise doomed them all.

The port doesn't plan to subsidize the service, beyond lobbying for federal money to build a terminal, so it needs to find an operator willing to shoulder the risk.

A less-detailed feasibility study, completed in 1999, showed that a ferry could make money under certain circumstances. In 2000, the port agreed to spend more to identify experienced ferry operators, but an operator did not materialize.

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