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Readers reflect on ferry decision

More than 50 people who participated in this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll also submitted thoughts and comments on the following question: Given the city’s difficulty in selling the fast ferry, do you think Mayor Duffy made a mistake in shutting down the service? The following are some of those comments. (For the results of the Snap Poll, see the Oct. 27, 2006, print edition of the Rochester Business Journal. To take part in the next Snap Poll, sign up for the free Daily Report at http://www.rbjdaily.com/dailyform.htm):

I think shutting the service down was a smart move. The project was hemorrhaging money and the costs had grown to the point of implosion and were getting worse. The city has taken a financial beating with the other projects such as High Falls, and the ferry didn’t help.
—Rich Calabrese Jr., RentRochester.com

I think the mayor should have operated the ferry during the summer months. We are currently loosing $6,000 a day as has been reported. The boat is like an auto; you need to run it occasionally to keep it up to snuff.
—Fred Amato, president, Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse

I was a little upset when Mayor Duffy made the announcement that the fast ferry was going to be sold because I never had a chance to ride it to Toronto. I would pay for a ride on it now even if it just went out in lake a little ways and came back. Mayor Duffy made the right decision because the fast ferry finances weren’t making sense. We were just losing too much money and at the time fuel prices were increasing. Even though shutting down the fast ferry was a blow to our community’s morale, it was the right decision for our long-term financial well being.
—Craig Charles

He was correct in stopping the service. His big mistake was not retaining a maritime boat broker to handle the sale and finalize a binding contract. He needs to get on with marketing the ferry to a legitimate buyer with financing.
—Michael J. Lebowitz

This is a hugely complicated issue, and whether or not Mayor Duffy made a mistake depends on myriad financial and legal details that few of us can judge from the outside. I was, however, a great supporter of the ferry concept and certainly hope that before too long there may in fact be a viable water link between Rochester and Toronto—whether doing so involves a smaller ship, additional routes including other cities, an on-board casino, or some combination of these and other means of rendering the ferry a profitable venture.
—Jocelyn Goldberg-Schaible, president, Rochester Research Group

It was the right decision! But they could have included a contingency to allow the use of the boat and facility for events and parties to generate some income and to draw more of the public to the site to benefit the other vendors.
—Bob Miglioratti, Realtor

The slow sale of the fast ferry is an indication that it was a poor purchasing decision originally. It shows that markets which can yield an adequate internal rate of return for that size and price of ship are few. If Rochester’s original purchasing decision had received the same scrutiny that would-be buyers are now exercising toward buying the ferry, I doubt we’d ever have had the ferry on our books. If it were running now, we might well be demonstrating not just a white elephant, but a bleeding white elephant. Mayor Duffy made the right and courageous decision in shutting it down. If it wasn’t right for the future, it isn’t right as a distraction in the interim either.
—Diane C. Harris, president, Hypotenuse Enterprises Inc.

The ferry may have not been a good decision to begin with, but Mayor Duffy’s premature decision regarding closing the ferry service has compounded the problem. It was a poor decision, which is costing Rochester both in dollars and reputation.
—Neal Elli, Empire Precision

Since it wasn’t making money, prolonging operations would have just dug a deeper financial hole. Mayor Duffy made the correct decision to shut it down, even if it’s taking longer to dispose of it than we all hoped.
—Matthew McDermott

All facets of the fast ferry were mismanaged. The business plan was flawed, the finances were hidden, the venture undercapitalized, and no one was responsible. Sounds like a typical government project—what else should we expect? Trains and buses are subsidized; why wasn’t this?
—Myron Kowal, Special Care Systems LLC

The ferry needed to be shut down, not because it couldn’t succeed but because government is not the right operator. The ferry would still be operating if the non-financial political promises had been kept. First, the flag needed to be changed to a U.S. flag upon arrival in U.S. waters. This failure resulted in significant unbudgeted labor costs for unnecessary pilots. Second, customs officials needed to allow freight. Their lack of approval and broken agreements sealed the fate of a business that showed, in its brief operation, that from a passenger perspective, the boat worked. The boat was not Mayor Duffy’s responsibility. He made the only decision that made any sense. This project should have been an example of how government and industry work together on new, exciting projects to help NYS prosper. It wasn’t.
—Jim Goff, CEO Landsman Development Corp.

I feel that it should either be in service or not. It would have been costly to operate it on an interim basis before a sale was solidified.
—Barb Borgus

Anyone who took the trip on the ferry thought it was the best thing that ever happened to Rochester. Duffy never gave it a chance! It could have been profitable by now if they had marketed it properly. It is not “transportation,” but an experience, excitement, an escape … and it should have been marketed that way! For the same reason cruise lines don’t market themselves as transportation to other ports.
—Jim Payne, president, S-Market Strategies

The city should have continued with the service while an alternative ownership entity was found—like the regional transportation authority, the N.Y. Department of Transportation or the State Thruway Authority. We should consider the ferry service as an extension of the state transportation system—a nautical highway. A possible trade for two smaller boats in exchange for our large boat would make sense initially. Well over 200,000 passengers utilized the ship during two very short seasons with little or no advertising! Rochester desperately needs a large number of tourists and it needs a unique dynamic project to create excitement in a very troubled local economy. The ferry service to Toronto should continue; just transfer ownership away from the City of Rochester (cannot afford it) to a regional or state transportation agency similar to what is successfully done in the State of Washington.
—Dennis Michaels

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