Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Swim, Baby, Swim

My 12 year old grandson lived in New Orleans for a while. He grew very fond of the Dry Dock restaurant on the Westbank. We'd bike to the Ferry building, get on the boat, go have a bite to eat, then ride back home. He is growing fast, is a smart kid (my personal bias aside) and rocks English vocabulary. He's coming for a visit this summer and when asked what he wanted to eat, one of his requests was a visit to the Dry Dock. I told him yeah, we'd better do that because next time he comes there might not be a Ferry anymore. He was silent for a minute then said, “What morons decided to implement THAT idea? Don't they know the Ferry is important?” After I finished laughing I asked if I could quote him, and so from the mouths of babes and all that. . . . .

We actually wound up talking about it for about half an hour. He's convinced the Bridge will collapse with all the extra cars. I told him not likely immediately but that one day it might need some extra bolstering. We talked about traffic jams and closed entrance/exit ramps. We talked about the impossibility of riding a bike over that bridge, forget about the extra riding distance to get to it. A 12 year old. He was appalled. What about people with no cars, he asked. Did I tell you he's just 12?

So some people want the toll booths gone and don't like paying the single greenback (or the .60 I think it is with a bridge pass) and if the toll goes, there go some entrances, some exits, probably maintenance, landscaping, policing and possibly lights on the Bridge. And probably adios to the Ferries. Probably gone unless privatized some way. (Hey wait a minute, doesn't the City of New Orleans need some bucks? Judging from the outrageous traffic/parking ticket extortion, I'm thinking it does. Can we work out something here?) And jobs: toll booth folks, maintenance folks, CCC police, Ferry employees, and lots more that I can't name. (CORRECTION: It's been brought to my attention by several people, including that guy that lives in my house, that it's .40 with a bridge pass. I should have known that since the pass still resides on our windshield.)

Jobs will also be an issue for the good Westbank dwellers who work on the Eastbank and rely on the Ferry to get them there. Income will be an issue for some Westbank landlords who will lose tenants who can no longer get to their jobs. (This I know first hand. I lived on the Westbank prior to the storm. The Ferry didn't start running again for a while and then not reliably. With both of us working in the Quarter and commuting by bicycle, it became untenable to continue living there so we moved. To the Eastbank.) Once those people start making their Westbank exodus the Eastbank rents, already ridiculous, will rise even higher. Or if they decide to stay on the Westbank and buy a car, there will be that many more cars to contend with on the Eastbank. Fun, any way you look at it.

As of now it's one dollar coming from Westbank to Eastbank by Bridge or by Ferry if you drive your car onto the boat. Pedestrians or bicyclists are free inbound and out. I've always thought everyone should pay, but then I also thought the Ferry should run longer hours as well. I'm evidently in the minority on both points.

Loss of the Ferry would increase (and this is just me making a guess) DUI's, and we'd probably see more traffic accidents, more injuries, more fatalities. I've seen folks stagger onto that Ferry who most assuredly shouldn't have been driving. They get off the Ferry and go home, all in one piece. I can count myself among that group on a couple of occasions.

One buck.

The Mississippi River is a fact of life here in New Orleans and it's gotta be crossed now and then. It's not going anywhere.

I have made the acquaintance of many a Ferry: New York, San Francisco, Seattle. All are used as a form of mass transit by commuters and visitors alike. I've also crossed bridges in those areas, because like the Mississippi, people have to cross the Hudson River, the East River, the San Francisco Bay and the various waterways in the Northwest, as none of those are going to disappear either.

The fact that anyone is complaining over one dollar is ludicrous in light of what other cities are charging for ferries or bridge crossings. Here are some samplings:

George Washington Bridge: Paid inbound not outbound $12 cash. Multi-pass cost $9.50 during peak hours, $7.50 off peak. Multi-axle vehicles $22-$78 bucks depending on what you're driving. (I didn't look but as I recall, the Lincoln Tunnel is the same rate. Either way people are getting from New Jersey to Manhattan in cars via one of these routes. I think the Brooklyn Bridge might be the same. I didn't check that or the Triboro or any of the other bridges in the area. I also found an article saying something about these rates being raised soon. I haven't checked that out yet.)

Ferries from New Jersey side of the Hudson to Midtown (there are several that I saw in my quick search: Hudson River, East River and Belford). I chose the Hoboken to Midtown for rates. First know that it is drop off only. No cars. Unless you want to pay to park which is another monthly fee not included in your crossing. So, no cars on the boats. However the fee structure is incredible. Pedestrians $9 (inbound to the City only), kids 6-12 $6, a 10 trip card will run you $76. Or you can buy monthly for $272. Want to take your bike? See above fees and add a $1.25 surcharge, or buy a $310 bike/ferry pass for the month. I believe there are senior and student rates, but I just grabbed up some numbers.

Here in New Orleans, Crescent City Connection or Ferry: ONE BUCK.

Let's go to the San Francisco now. The Bay is a longer commute. I did it for a short time many years ago. If you miss the Ferry from Sausalito to the City, you're gonna wait a long while for the next one. How much are those folks paying?

Golden Gate Bridge: Paid inbound only. $6 cash. Monthly pass $5. Multi-axle vehicles $18-42. I didn't check the Bay Bridge or the cost of BART from San Francisco to Berkeley or Oakland.

Sausalito Ferry paid inbound only $9.25 cash. Senior or child 6-18 $4.50. Multi-pass fare $4.85. No cars (so drop off/pickup or possibly parking fees. Not sure and can't remember since I didn't have a car and used mass transit exclusively then.) There are ferries that run from Larkspur, and there are special runs for Giants games (reservations recommended for the Giants game ferries. Yes. I'm serious.) Bikes are allowed based on the class of boat being used. Some of them can take 750 passengers/200 bikes, others can only take 15 bikes, still others can take 100 bikes. That said, it's first come first served, so if you happen to be bicycle number 201 on the big boat, you'll be waiting for the next Ferry.

Seattle area has at least 8 different Ferry routes connecting various islands to the city. At least that's what I counted but I'm betting island to island there are even more. I took one once a long time ago. It was a long ride, but people regularly use them to commute in that area. Since I have friends who live on Bainbridge Island and commute to Seattle daily, I decided to use that one for the rates. The crossing is about 9.7 miles and takes about half an hour. Looks like there might be a bridge there too but I didn't check that. Ferry rates from Bainbridge Island to Seattle paid inbound only are $7.70 cash, Senior $3.85, Children 6-18 $6.25. Remember, these are pedestrians. A 10 ride ticket is $62.10, monthly ticket $99.40, Bike surcharge $1.00. (It must be godawful to have to make change for these rates every day.) A two axle car is $13.25, with rates for multi-axle going higher still, as with the other examples, however, on this ferry there's a catch: Vehicles pay BOTH ways, so a round trip ticket with your car is $26.50. You can purchase tickets one way or round trip, along with various multi-pass options.

Let's review. Ferry in New Orleans Westbank to Eastbank, free for pedestrians, free for bikes, $1 for cars. Bridge, no pedestrians that I've ever seen, or bikes for that matter, and $1 one way for a two axle vehicle.

I will no doubt upset someone's apple cart, but I think the idea of eliminating the toll is completely nuts, nevermind short-sighted. I would propose that we raise them. On the CCC, on the Ferries, all of it. Treat these arteries like the commuter lifelines they are and let the commuters pay their way like in every other metropolis on the list of world class cities. (We do consider ourselves that don't we? I hear it a lot in any case.) Make the pedestrians and bicyclists pay to use the Ferry. Most of us wouldn't mind, and those who do can take a bus or drive if they really want to get pissy about it. Raise the tolls on the Bridge too.

We have to view those ferries as part of a mass transportation system. Greener for sure, vital for many, we have to keep them. More cars in town, higher rents on the Eastbank, loss of income on the Westbank, closure of entrance/exits—I'm just not seeing how any of those possible outcomes are good things.

I haven't finished reading the CCC report which can be found at Keepthetolls.org . I will attempt to do that as no doubt I am overlooking something. I just wanted to get it out there that our lousy one buck toll pales in comparison to other fees in other cities. Cities that understand that there are commuters and that bridges and traffic patterns can only stand so much. That anyone is complaining about that one dollar is baffling to me, when in my view the tolls should be increased.

I know I can't be the only one who thinks eliminating the tolls is ridiculous. I mean, my 12 year old grandson realized it immediately upon hearing it. How can grownups even be considering it, he wondered? From his point of view it's moronic, his word not mine, and I'm inclined to agree. Unless, of course, we all decide to start swimming across.


Adam_Z said...

Has anyone looked at the possibility of couching this issue as a Civil Rights case? If the CCC is forced to retrofit the bridge for pedestrian/bike traffic (seems to me no ferries violates my pedestrian/biking citizen's right to go to the Westbank and work or shop, or escape decimated post-storm downtown areas.) at large expense they may find it in their hearts to suddenly find the money to keep the ferries afloat. Just sayin. Any lawyer-types out there who can look into this? -Kim Welan

Stuart Johnson said...

Bless you, Dear for raising your voice. Of all the idiotic, why-on-Earth-are-we-even-discussing-this-the-answer-is-so-obvious political issues today (and there are so many of them), this one stands out in my mind as the most ludicrous. If New Orleans lets that ferry go, it will be a stain on that city. Probably only the people who need and love the ferry will even notice; I am sure it wouldn't make national news, but the impact on those people's lives will be deeply profound. In a city where civic pride and personal attachment to place mean so much, toying around with a service so fundamental is extremely dangerous to the health of the city. This has the potential to transform an entire community of proud, industrious, productive New Orleanians into bitter, disenchanted NOLa expats. In many ways, I believe the future of New Orleans character weighs in the balance. If the city turns its back on the West Bankers who need that ferry, the city is not only untenable for big business (as it has been for years), but it is no longer a safe place to live and build a community. This decision could do to the West Bank what Katrina didn't achieve. Algiers Point will be the next Ninth Ward. Who in their right mind would live there?