Efforts to revive high-speed ferry service on Lake Ontario come to an end

An attempt to resume high-speed passenger and vehicle ferry service across Lake Ontario between the U.S. and Canada is dead. For the second time in two years the venture has been halted by a variety of factors including high capital and operating costs, as well as operational and maintenance issues.

Ownership of the 284-foot aluminum catamaran ferry is expected to pass from the City of Rochester, N.Y., to the British company Euroferries Ltd., which would use it for service across the English Channel. The vessel has a capacity of 774 passengers, 238 cars and 10 trucks or buses.

The sale, for a reported price of $29.8 million, had been expected to be final by mid-May, but still had not closed at the beginning of June pending resolution of diesel engine warranty issues and other possible undisclosed issues.

Canadian American Transportation Systems, a private company based in Rochester, launched service by the 43-knot Spirit of Ontario between Rochester and Toronto, Ontario, in June 2004. The operation benefited from significant federal, state and local funding. The service ended abruptly on Sept. 7, 2004.

In an attempt to salvage the service, the City of Rochester purchased the vessel through bankruptcy proceedings for $32 million and launched the second venture. It contracted with Bay Ferries of Prince Edward Island to operate the service for a reported $1.3 million annual fee. With the vessel renamed The Cat, service resumed in June 2005. By early December 2005 Bay Ferries, citing low bookings, decided to cut back the number of crossings. On Jan. 10, 2006, Rochester Mayor Robert J. Duffy announced the end of ferry service and the prospective sale.

To keep the ferry operating in 2006, the mayor said the city would have had to subsidize the operation by almost $5 million. Citing this and other costs, the mayor said, “The City of Rochester is no longer in the ferry business.”           •

By Professional Mariner Staff