Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fate of Ontario Superferry: Lessons for Hawai'i?

Worth a good look over.  The similarities, and the fate of the state taxpayer are mirror images.

Haleakala Times
December 04, 2007

Fate of Ontario Superferry: Lessons for Hawai'i?

By Patricia Tummons

In all the recent coverage of the Hawai'i Superferry, little has been
said about a troubled sister ship that briefly plied the waters of
Lake Ontario. Here are some of the facts about its short-lived
service between Toronto and Rochester:

March 2004: The double-hulled ferry, built in Australia at a cost of
some $42 million, stops in Hawai'i on its way to the eastern seaboard
of the United States. The port calls, sponsored by the Hawai'i
Superferry backers, are intended to give Hawai'i residents a hint of
what is to come. The Spirit of Ontario is slightly smaller than the
two vessels being built for the Hawaii trade, but still holds nearly
800 passengers and more than 200 cars.

April 2004: The vessel is damaged as it docks in New York.

June 2004: With the city of Rochester and the state of New York
having together invested more than $30 million in upgrading the
city's port facilities to accommodate the new ferry, the Spirit of
Ontario begins service, with a one-way fare costing about $30. Almost
immediately, ferry owners begin to lobby for laws to allow on-board
gambling, citing a need to boost revenues. Their efforts failed. Soon
after service began, residents along the southern coast of Lake
Ontario began complaining of high waves along the shore generated by
the ferry's wake.

September 2004: Canadian-American Transportation Services (CATS), the
company that owned the ferry, suspends service on September 4, citing
losses of more than $2 million in the 80 days it had been
operational. By the end of the month, the vessel was impounded by a
federal judge.

February 2005: The city of Rochester purchases the vessel for $32
million at a bankruptcy auction.

March-May 2005:The vessel has to undergo repairs before service could
resume. While at drydock in Toronto, it fell off the blocks,
sustaining minor damage. Its prototype engines, deemed "problematic"
in a pre-purchase inspection, were no longer under warranty. The city
had to purchase a new warranty for $1.5 million and a two-year
maintenance agreement for another $600,000 from the German

June 30, 2005: Service between Rochester and Ontario resumes.

October 2005: A special promotional trip was cancelled after
12-foot-high waves on Lake Ontario affected fuel lines and caused the
ship not to have full power. Midway to Toronto, the vessel turned
back and headed for port in Rochester.

January 2006: After 10 months and $10 million in operating losses,
the mayor of Rochester suspends service.

April 2006: Rochester sells the vessel for $30 million to a German
company that operates a ferry service in the Strait of Gibraltar. The
Tanger Jet II makes the run between Tangier and Tarifa in 35 minutes.
A round-trip ticket is about 56 euros ($83).

September 2007: A federal investigation into the use of public funds
to support the ferry concludes with no charges filed. A state
investigation continues. A private lawsuit has been filed by a
businessman, claiming that taxpayers should not have to repay a $29
million loan used to support ferry operations since, he alleges,
aspects of the ferry arrangement were unlawful.