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Passenger Ferry Service - An Overview and a Study Proposal for Passenger Ferry Service in Wisconsin

Click HERE for graphic.


Wisconsin's 21st century transportation plan- will outline a
comprehensive transportation system that moves people and goods
efficiently, strengthens out economy, protects our environment, and
supports our quality of life. Working with DOT, the public will
identify Wisconsin's transportation needs- and help to male
tomorrow's transportation choices.

Tommy G. Thompson,

Charles H. Thompson,

Passenger Ferry Service

An overview of issues and a study proposal for
passenger ferry service
serving the state of Wisconsin

Wisconsin Department of Transportation
July 1994


This paper was created by the Wisconsin Department of
Transportation.  The principal author of this document was Dawn
Krahn, Multimodal Planning Unit.  Editor/publisher of this document
was Daniel Yeh.  Multimodal Planning Unit.

Others providing significant input for this document include the
following: John Hartz, Supervisor of the Multimodal Planning Unit;
Randall Wade, Chief of the Statewide System Planning Section; Ellen
Fisher, Chief of the Harbors and Waterways Section.



Ferry services have long been a part of Wisconsin's passenger and
freight intercity transportation system.  With state borders formed
by two Great Lakes to the north and east and the Mississippi and
St. Croix rivers on the west, along with the Wisconsin River
running through the state, opportunities abound for movements by

Translinks 21, the state's transportation plan for the 21st
century, includes a component for intercity transportation.  For
ferries, the primary thrust of long-distance, intercity service has
been over Uke Michigan, from points -in Wisconsin to places in
Michigan.  For Translinks 21, this brief study of ferry services in
Wisconsin will concentrate on the passenger aspects of the Lake
Michigan services, although the freight services will also be
discussed briefly.

An overview of Lake Michigan ferry services

In Wisconsin, eight counties have coastlines on the main portion of
Lake Michigan, with another three counties having coastlines on
Green Bay.  Overall, well over half of Wisconsin's population
resides within 50 miles of the lake Michigan coastline.  On the
other side of lake Michigan, the entire western border of
Michigan's lower peninsula is constituted by coastline on the lake.

Due to the circuitous land routing between Wisconsin and Michigan's
lower peninsula, a ferry service operating over Lake Michigan has
the potential to offer a shorter route for Wisconsin passengers to
and from Michigan (and vice versa).  As an example, a trip from
Milwaukee to Grand Rapids, Michigan is approximately 270 miles by
land.  The same trip by ferry, via Muskegon, Michigan, is only 120
miles in length.

Lake Michigan ferry services developed over the years in response
to this distance advantage.  However, the strict length of trip was
only one of the many factors involved in ferry operations.  Over
the years, there have been many trials and tribulations in
developing an effective, cross-lake passenger ferry service.

Until recently ferry service stayed in operation primarily because
of the freight related business, although service was also provided
to passengers to create additional revenue.  Ferry service across
Lake Michigan began in the mid- 1 800's with the use of paddle
vessels carrying passengers and freight, principally eastbound
grain and flour, from Milwaukee to Grand Haven, Michigan.  Their
purpose was to provide an east-west route for northern freight that
would be shorter and more economical than the all-land route
through Chicago.

In the 1890's and early 1900's, as railroads began competing in
delivering cargo to western markets, railroad car ferry service
across Lake Michigan became an efficient method of

                                           Passenger ferry -- Page 1

transportation.  Operating costs per ton-mile were higher by ferry,
but the high capital costs of laying track around the lake more
than offset the higher operating costs.

Recent history: 1970-1990
After a number of different operators who had varying degrees of
success, three operators emerged to operate cross-lake ferries
during the 1970's, with two of these providing passenger/auto

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) operated ferry service
between Ludington, Michigan and Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Milwaukee. 
Three coal-fired steam vessels carried rail freight cars,
passengers, and automobiles.  With capacity for about 500
passengers on each ship, C&O was the major provider of
passenger/auto ferry service during the 1970's.

However, the quality and availability of C&O's passenger/auto
service slowly dwindled during this time.  The inconvenient travel
times and lack of current information on routes and schedules
tended to discourage passenger usage.  Often, schedules and
destinations changed based on seasonal patterns or the freight
traffic movements.  As a result, passenger totals dwindled from
197,000 in 1971 to 126,000 in 1979.  In just a few more years, the
C&O discontinued its ferry operations altogether.

The Grand Trunk Western Railway (GTW) operated two ferries from
Milwaukee to Muskegon, carrying freight only.  In 1978, the GTW
received permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)
to abandon these services.

The Ann Arbor Rail Company also operated cross-lake ferries in the
1970's, and received a public subsidy from the Michigan Interstate
Railway Company after October of 1977.  The Ann Arbor operated two
routes, Kewaunee-Frankfort, Michigan and Manitowoc-Frankfort. 
However, one of the ferries broke down in 1973, necessitating a
service embargo between Manitowoc and Frankfort until 1979.

The Ann Arbor's passenger/auto service was operated only on an
unscheduled basis after 1971.  This inconvenience helped lead to
declining passenger levels from 30,000 in 1971 to 6,000 in 1979. 
The Ann Arbor finally discontinued all cross-lake ferry operations
in April of 1982.

Late in 1983, the C&O's rail ferry services were taken over by the
Michigan & Wisconsin Transportation Company (MWT).  Without any
subsidy, the service operated a rail freight and passenger/auto
operation year-round between Kewaunee and Ludington.  At times,
additional service was operated between Ludington and Milwaukee
during the summer months.  Passenger levels at first were fairly
promising, with just under I 00,000 passengers carried in the
1983/84 season.  However, by 1990, MWT went bankrupt due to
declines in rail and passenger traffic.

Present Lake Michigan ferry service
After the abandonment of the Michigan and Wisconsin Transportation
Company (MWT), it appeared that cross-lake ferries were extinct. 
However, in the spring of 1991 a new private company, the

Passenger ferry -- Page 2

Lake Michigan Carferry (LMC) was founded.  Whereas previous
operators offered primarily rail freight service, with
passenger/auto service as a secondary consideration, the LMC
changed its philosophy to cater solely to passenger/auto service.

LMC purchased and completely refurbished an existing steam ferry,
the S. S. Badger.  Improvements to this ship included providing
passenger amenities such as food service, game rooms, shops and
improved lounge and seating areas.  The S.S. Badger has a capacity
of 520 passengers and 120 automobiles.

In 1992, the S.S. Badger offered one daily round-trip between
Ludington and-Manitowoc from May 15 to October 12.  A second daily
round-trip was added during the peak months of July and August. 
Passenger response was strong, with 113,000 passengers carried,
about 33,000 more than the operators had projected.

In 1993, LMC operated the ferry from May 3 to October 11. However,
passenger counts in 1993 declined slightly from the previous year
as a result of fewer total ferry trips being made, partly due to
the vessel being briefly out-of-service for repairs.

Figure 1, displays the route of the existing service and those
routes abandoned since 1970.

          Figure 1: Past and present Lake Michigan ferry routes

Click HERE for graphic.

Government involvement

Translinks 21 is the state's transportation plan for all modes, and
includes a limited review of the Lake Michigan ferry service. It is
instructive to look at past government involvement with the various
ferry services. 

                                           Passenger ferry -- Page 3

Other than the short period of subsidies for the Ann Arbor through
1982, and the abandonment hearings by the ICC, there has been very
little recent government involvement in ferry operations.  However,
two incidents of government interest in the 1980's bear mention:

Michigan DOT survey
In 1984, the Michigan Department of Transportation performed a
survey of ferry passengers as an information gathering effort for
all transportation modes.  Key findings included the following:

    58% of ferry passengers were from Wisconsin or Michigan.

    Of this group, about 55 % or passengers were from Michigan,
     and 45 % were from Wisconsin.

    About 67 % of passengers were recreational travelers, with
     only 6 % on work related trips.

Wisconsin interest in subsidies
The other government action of note occurred in the mid-1980's,
when the state of Wisconsin expressed some interest in subsidizing
passenger ferry operations as a service preservation measure.  In
fact, the state legislature passed a bill which provided funds to
subsidize the purchase of a ship for Milwaukee-Muskegon ferry
service.  However the actual costs turned out to be much higher
than originally estimated and the project was dropped.

Potential for future passenger service

Based on the strong passenger counts of the 1992 and 1993 sailing
seasons, LMC management is optimistic about the long-term potential
for the current Manitowoc-Ludington route.  For the 1994 season,
LMC plans to offer daily round-trip service from May 20 to October
10, with twice-daily service from June 24 to August 28.

LMC hopes to expand its tour bus business by marketing the
advantages of the ferry's easy connection between popular tourist
areas in Wisconsin and Michigan.  LMC will also reportedly be
carrying truck freight during non-peak months and on other sailings
when passenger service does not fill the ferry's capacity.

The LMC management is also evaluating other lake Michigan routes
such as Milwaukee to Muskegon, or Waukegan, Illinois to Holland,
Michigan.  LMC's evaluation is looking at routes on the basis of
the following:

    Forecasted demand between new cities, without detracting from
     the current service;

    Costs of updating dock and refurbishing car ferries; and

    Financing considerations.

Passenger ferry -- Page 4

Other private companies have also reportedly evaluated the
potential for passenger/auto ferry service across Lake Michigan.

Translinks 21 and cross-lake ferries

At this point, all considerations of expanded cross-lake service
are from a private standpoint.  However, through Translinks 21,
WisDOT proposes to include a formal analysis of ferry issues to
determine an appropriate state role in these services.

Study goals
The,proposed study of ferries under Translinks 21 would examine the
potential for an additional route or expanded service on the
current route.  WisDOT would work closely with LMC and the State of
Michigan to evaluate the potential for expanded service.  The study
would include review ,.of the following issues:

    The study would determine if there is a market for an
additional ferry route, such as Milwaukee - Ludington.  Depending
on the results of the analysis, it could recommend that state
assistance be provided by Wisconsin and/or Michigan to initiate the
additional service.

    The analysis would also determine if there is a need for an
additional boat(s), either on the current route and/or on other
routes.  This may also require subsidies or capital assistance by
Wisconsin and/or Michigan.

    A determination of the need for and impact of marketing
assistance would be a part of the study.  This may require
coordination of efforts outside the respective state DOT'S, such as
working with the state Departments of Development/Tourism.

    Another aspect of the study would be to analyze the need for
site improvements at the port in Manitowoc or at an additional port
sites in Wisconsin or Michigan.

    Finally, the study would address the possibilities and methods
for increasing truck freight moving capabilities on the current and
future routes.  LMC is currently working to increase truck traffic
for their service.  In particular, certain overweight, oversize
trucks may be particularity suited to utilize the ferry.  These
trucks are hampered by -- and can exacerbate -- significant
congestion problems in the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor.

Survey of passengers
A key part of the proposed study would be an on-board survey of
ferry passengers.  As part of its intercity planning efforts of
Translinks 21, WisDOT sponsored special surveys of travelers using
all other intercity modes serving the state (air, automobile, bus
and train).  To understand the role of ferry service in Wisconsin's
passenger transportation system, a survey should also be performed
for ferry passengers.

                                           Passenger ferry -- Page 5

A careful methodology for the survey of ferry passengers is
required as the demographics of passengers change not only with the
season and school year but also with economy and weather.  The
survey will be designed to collect the following information:

    Origins and destinations of passengers -- i.e., before
arriving at or after departing from the ferry dock -- to help
determine geographic market areas for ferry passenger services.

    Socioeconomic characteristics of passengers, to determine the
general makeup of the ferry passenger market.

    Alternative modes of transportation which might be used by
those ferry travelers, in order to -assist in analyses of potential
-shifts from -other modes.

    Information on why the passenger chose the ferry, what their
impressions were of the service, and if they plan to ride again, to
help evaluate potential demand.

Cost and logistics
Translinks 21 proposes an array of four alternative sets of actions
for other intercity passenger modes.  Due to the limited nature of
services currently available, this special study is the only action
being proposed under Translinks 21 for ferry services.  It is
expected that the study would be conducted during 1995.  The study
would likely take several months to conduct, as the passenger
survey would need to be conducted at various different times during
the ferry's operating season.

This special study would be conducted by WisDOT either directly or
through a contracted consultant.  LMC and the state of Michigan
would be closely involved in the study.  The estimated study cost
is $50,000 to be funded solely through the state of Wisconsin.

Other Wisconsin ferry operations

The Lake Michigan ferry services are the primary focus of
Translinks 21 in terms of intercity passenger movements.  For
information purposes, Wisconsin's short-distance carferry
operations are described briefly below.  Only those services which
carry vehicles and passengers are included in this discussion.

Madeline Island Ferry
Located in Bayfield County in northern Wisconsin, this privately
owned ferry line provides service from the city of Bayfield to
Madeline Island.  Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle
Islands of Lake Superior, a popular tourism and recreation area. 
Madeline Island is also home to permanent residents, who utilize
the ferry as their freight and passenger link to the mainland.

The 20 minute ferry service provides 23 daily round trips in the
summer and seven or eight daily round trips in the spring and fall. 
Lake Superior freezes in winter, so the ferry is landlocked from

Passenger ferry -- Page 6

January to March.  During winter months, the crossing is made by
wind sled (an air propeller driven vehicle), snowmobile, on
foot,.or even by automobile depending on ice conditions.

Washington Island Ferry
This privately owned ferry line provides service across lake
Michigan between Northport, at the northern tip of Door County, and
Detroit Harbor on Washington Island.  Ferry service over the six
mile journey has been offered for about 50 years.

This service provides year-round transportation to the island for
the 650 residents of the island and for tourists visiting the
island.  In addition to passengers, the service accommodates autos,
trucks, and supplies needed by the residents (such as mail, food,
and construction materials).

(Another ferry operates to Washington Island from Gills Rock on
Door County, but it carries passengers only on a seasonal basis.)

Cassville Ferry 
The village of Cassville owns and operates the Cassville Ferry,
which operates from May to October.  The ferry links Cassville,
located in Grant County in southwestern Wisconsin, with Turkey
Creek, Iowa on the western bank of the Mississippi River.  The
ferry provides an essential bridge service, as the nearest
conventional highway bridges are over 30 miles to the north or
south of Cassville.

Merrimac Ferry
The Merrimac Ferry is owned and operated by WisDOT as a connecting
segment of State Highway 113 at Merrimac over the Wisconsin River. 
Autos and small trucks can be taken on the free, five minute ferry
ride.  While many people use the ferry to avoid driving ten or
twelve miles in either direction to the nearest bridge, others take
it because it is a tourist attraction.  The ferry has been in
operation since 1848.

                                           Passenger ferry -- Page 7

                                                       TRANSLINKS 21

For more information on this topic, Contact

PO BOX 7913
MADISON, WI 53707-7913


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