Commuter passenger ferries as a mass transit alternative

Recently, the City of Detroit opened its beautiful new cruise ship terminal. The terminal is a terrific way to bring more tourists to the heart of the Motor City. In addition, I believe there is another potential use for the terminal – as a commuter passenger ferry hub from waterfront suburbs to the northeast, south and across the river in Windsor, Ontario.

Detroit Cruise Ship Terminal - SOURCE:

Detroit is fortunate to be situated along a major waterway that rarely freezes over completely in winter. Even if the Detroit River did freeze over for short periods, a commuter ferry service could easily link downtown to the suburbs such as St. Clair Shores to the northeast and Wyandotte or Trenton to the south for at least 10 months out of the year. A passenger ferry service would have the added benefit of lessening the need to widen highways or build other expensive transportation infrastructure. Let nature’s waterway be the infrastructure.

Vancouver Seabus - SOURCE:

A number of cities across the continent have successful commuter ferry services, such as Boston, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver. Many other cities along the coasts, the Great Lakes, and major river could benefit from commuter ferry services, including:

  • Buffalo – south suburbs and Grand Island to the north
  • Chicago – north suburbs such as Waukegan and Evanston and south suburbs such as Gary and Michigan City
  • Cincinnati – east  and west suburbs along the Ohio River
  • Cleveland – east and west suburbs like Fairport Harbor and Lorain
  • Detroit – northeast and south suburbs noted above
  • Jacksonville – south suburbs like Orange Park
  • Louisville – east suburbs along the Ohio River
  • Miami – north and south suburbs on Biscayne Bay
  • Milwaukee – north and south suburbs like Port Washington and Racine
  • Philadelphia – northeast and southwest suburbs like Bristol and Chester
  • San Diego – south suburbs like Chula Vista
  • Tampa – west suburbs like Clearwater
  • Toronto – east and west suburbs like Oshawa and Mississauga

Some other river city locations may be viable for such a commuter service, but are sometimes limited by locks and dams. The suburban ferry stations for these services would also provide an economic stimulus for the communities where they locate as commuter passenger embark and debark from their trip to downtown.

I would enjoy hearing other thoughts on this idea and any stories on the success (or lack thereof) for such a commuter service.

This entry was posted in cities, economic development, environment, planning, transit, transportation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Commuter passenger ferries as a mass transit alternative

  1. Tim Greenhow says:

    In other cities in the world this is alread done. Anyone who has been to Bangkok knows about the “high speed” water taxis, with numerous jump on and off points on the river. Even several klongs (canals) have water taxis. I imagine quite a few other large cities in Asia have similar arrangements.
    Stockholm Sweden also has communter services on the water. Transit tickets work for them as well as for the subways, buses and the commuter trains. Since Stockholm lies at close to 59 degrees north and has REAL winters, but can keep these services going, it shouldn’t be impossible for US cities with flowing rivers to keep enough water open to run services throughout the winter, extreme weather excepted.


  2. Nikko P says:

    Passenger ferries are really fill a niche roll where a major city and another urban center are separated by a long body of water. If you’re talking about implementing a ferry service between two destinations that are already connected directly by land, this may not be so wise. Ferries are considerably slower than both automobiles and conventional forms of transit and measurably less energy efficient. For the most part, where ferries are needed they already exist (San Francisco, New York, Seattle, etc) but most of the locations that the author suggests are really not necessary (Milwaukee, Toronto, Cleveland, etc). That said, there are a couple of locations that could probably use them (Tampa Bay, Detroit-Windsor) and they act as a good catalyst for tourism but ferries just aren’t a realistic mass transit option in most cases.


  3. Eric Doherty says:

    In Vancouver Canada the passenger ferry was introduced as an alternative to a proposed freeway crossing, and has saved a huge amount of money. I expect that some new similar services will be introduced to replace existing freeway bridges as they become unsafe and are demolished.

    Transit needs to replace automobile travel, not just facilitate more and more wasteful commuter travel.


  4. Preach it my brother.


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