Thursday, September 06, 2012

Save the Ferry?

(Disclaimer: If you're looking for an in-depth discussion regarding the merits and cost effectiveness of car ferries, including lots of well-researched facts, figures, and statistics, then you've come to the wrong place.)

So, there's this auto ferry that crosses the St. Johns River in the Jacksonville area, right about here:

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The ferry doesn't really get used enough to justify the cost, though. There's a toll-free bridge kind of nearby, and the north bank of the river isn't all that developed there anyway, and as a result, expenses > revenues. And of course, if they were to raise the ferry toll, even fewer people would use it, right? The only way to stop them from losing money might be to shut down the ferry altogether.

Well, not so fast!

The Mayport Ferry provides a select few a very valuable service, but is it worth it? That's the (literally) million dollar question.

This dilemma is no doubt facing auto ferries across the country, they become increasingly a) more expensive to run, and b) obsolete. North Carolina's ferries are also losing money, but they're a bit more of a necessity than the Mayport Ferry, since there is no other way to get to Ocracoke Island, for instance. Since they are more of a necessity in North Carolina, tou can't shut all of them down, of course. But you can raise the tolls, which one political party in the state wants to do, and the other doesn't. I forget which party is which (does it matter?), but for now we're stuck with the status quo, which is a still unprofitable ferry system.

So what's the solution? Well...maybe we need a little innovation. Today's automobiles are much more efficient than they were 30 years ago. I'm guessing the same cannot be said for auto ferries. If someone out there figures out a way to cut auto ferry operational costs in half, either by way of a new boat design or soemthing else, they'll make millions! ... Or, not, because the demand isn't there. Like I said, auto ferries are becoming increasingly obsolete.

"Why does a ferry system have to be profitable, anyway? Roads aren't profitable, you know; taxes pay for them. Why can't ferries just be paid for by taxes, too? Or at least subsidize them?" Well, sure! That is, if you can argue that the ferry is still necessary. Charge a reasonable fee to use the ferry, and cover the rest with taxpayer dollars (preferably local tax dollars), for the good of the community. I guess that's fine, provided the ferry is really "necessary" (as some of the North Carolina ferries are). If we're just wasting money, though, maybe it's time to end it.

In the case of the Mayport ferry, there is no perfect solution, so maybe they should put it up for a vote among Beaches residents. "Choose one of the following options: 1) The Mayport Ferry stays open, subsidized by a tax increase (sales or property, perhaps) that only applies east of the Intracoastal in Duval County. 2) The Mayport Ferry closes, and your taxes stay the same." Democracy!

1 comment:

allen_t said...

Tolls are being increased on the Mayport Ferry effective October 1:
Cars from $5 to $6
Motorcycles from $3 to $6
Cars with trailers from $6 to $10
Pedestrians are still $1