Friday, June 23

How Can A River Ferry Not Be Jacksonville's Biggest Money Pit?

I was driving along the 295 and noticed that the Merril exit had a little symbol on it depicting a car on a boat. Proportionally, it looked like a tow-boat for a car, but I took it to mean it was the exit for a ferry. As I continued over the Dames Point Bridge, I saw that the Hecksher Drive exit also has a ferry symbol. Problem is, the problem was already solved, meaning anyone on the 295 only needs to cross the bridge to avoid needing the ferry. I suppose there might be one tourist every decade or so that gets excited and exits in order to take a river ferry, but that's not a very good ROI for the sign. It's kind of like having a sign for the Matthews Bridge at the Dames Point Bridge. Anyhow, the sign is dumb, but what about the ferry itself?

I saw that it was closed for maintenance for several months. Maintenance sounds expensive. I don't have any clue as to operating costs or land costs or anything related to ferries, but it seems like a costly luxury when a bridge exists. I'm going to guess there are parking lots, ticket buildings with employees, at least one large boat with several more employees, etc. Even if the tickets are from an automated kiosk and people park themselves, it's a huge freakin boat, right? 

I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it seems that the Mayport Ferry has lost between $500,000 and $1 million a year for the past 30 or so years. Probably since the Dames Point Bridge was built. It's changed ownership several times (because it loses money), and now it's owned by JTA. I'm sure someone got rich back in 1874 by running the ferry, but 1874 is never coming back again, people.

JTA claims 400,000 passengers per year. I'm not sure the number of vehicles or whether cars are counted as a single passenger even if it's stuffed with people. Either way, every rider would have to kick in an extra dollar (minimum) in order to almost break even. But I'm sure all the expensive studies have shown the most you can charge a pedestrian to cross a river (and then have to pay to cross back) with nothing of interest on either side is $1.

So the best plan was to upgrade something or other, closing the ferry service for a few months. An upgrade probably has not resulted in higher ticket prices, and I really doubt it will result in more consistent ridership, so it was probably done to make sure the ferry was safe. At what cost? Beats me, but it probably wasn't cheap or free. 

I'd love to hear the argument for continuing to fund the ferry. If it's historical, then I'd like to see an old boat. If it's useful, then I'd like to see who benefits the most from the ferry. If it's tourism, then I'd like to see where people are from who use it. If it's economical, then I'd like to see it break even. Honestly, I want the ferry to make sense. Even a little bit of sense. I just don't see how. 

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