On Aug. 10, President Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. In addition to providing funding for transit programs for fiscal years 2005-2009, SAFETEA-LU authorizes the Department of Transportation to update the National Ferry Database. The database is over five years old and needs to be updated. The act also calls for the database to be updated every two years.
The database provides planners, state legislatures, government bureaucrats, as well as other transportation providers with information on ferry operations and their effectiveness in moving passengers and vehicles.
In 2000, the DOT was able to collect information from 198 out of 224 ferry operations. The 88.4 percent response rate was a major accomplishment for the DOT and particularly for the ferry industry, considering that small businesses are sometimes reluctant to provide information.
A new data collection instrument is now being designed. It will probably be an updated version of the form used in 2000. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) is seeking suggestions on its makeup from other agencies and the industry. Final approval of the changes will come from the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for data collection from the public.
Hopefully, only essential additions will be made, such as providing more information on who owns and operates shore facilities and how much space is available for foot passengers and motor vehicles prior to boarding. Ridership data could also be expanded to include the number of trucks and other vehicles larger than vans and pickups that are carried on each route.
For the general public, more information is needed on intermodal transit connections provided at ferry terminals.
Also, an accounting of government funding for security upgrades should be included. This could show the inadequacy of Homeland Security grants for the nation’s ferries.
During the next few months, ferry managers need to keep an eye out for a package from BTS that needs to be checked out, not chucked out!