Fast ferry service could be afloat next year

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TORONTO, Ont. — International Fast Ferry Corp. has its sails set on having a cross-lake ferry service running between Toronto and Niagara County, N.Y. by the summer of 2004.

The company is planning to operate three catamarans, each able to carry 250 cars and 1,000 passengers, between Toronto and Porter, N.Y.

Company President Bill Wilkinson says he has obtained all the financing needed for the $150-million ferry project, but hasn’t yet managed to secure docking facilities on the American side. He’s also asking for US$40 million in tax credits from New York State.

A one-way crossing would cost $53 per car and $32 per passenger, and take about 40 minutes as opposed to the longer drive around the lake on the QEW. Wilkinson says he’s not marketing the Toronto-Porter ferry as a faster alternative to the freeway, but as “another way of getting there” for people who’d rather relax than commute behind the wheel.

“It’s a lifestyle choice for people who don’t want the white-knuckle (drive) and worry what the traffic’s going to be like or the weather’s going to be like,” he told a St. Catharines newspaper. “If they want something different, they can let somebody else do the driving.”

Wilkinson has had this ferry project in the works for three years. He previously worked on a project for a Toronto-Rochester ferry service, which is also scheduled to start next year.

There’ve been several attempts to get a cross-lake, fast-ferry service going over the last seven years, and all but one have failed. The most recent failed attempt was made in 2001 by Georg Kostyk of St. Catharines, who had a proposal for a Niagara-centered network of Great Lakes ferries. He’s now working on a “toned down” version that would see two catamarans on Lake Ontario and one on Lake Erie. But the plan is still about two years from becoming reality.

The only existing cross-lake ferry service is a seasonal hydrofoil between Toronto and Port Dalhousie that can carry about 140 passengers.

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