Commuter Ferry Service Occoquan, Potomac

 Commuter Ferry Service Occoquan, Potomac, & Anacostia Rivers White Paper Overview The Occoquan, Potomac, and Anacostia Rivers are the last unused highway in the National Capitol Region. Every day commuters sit in gridlock on Interstate 95 and our local roads while the rivers remain unused for transit riders. Commuter ferry service on our river system – traveling North‐South and East‐West – is one of the most promising transit alternatives to be considered in a long time. In addition to a new form of transit, ferry service also makes sense from a homeland security and tourism perspective as well. In doesn’t take a natural disaster or a terrorist incident to paralyze our road system, we experience gridlock in bad weather, peak commute times, and with fatal accidents. A fleet of high‐speed ferries capable of evacuating residents or moving military equipment and personnel during a declared emergency would improve our capacity to respond and recover quickly to a wide range of incidents. Too, the availability of a fleet of ferries on nights and weekends could shuttle residents and tourists to a local baseball game, airport, or to dining and museum locations along our river system. Ferry origin and destination points would be expected to generate economic development opportunities as Metrorail Stations have done in this region in the past. Ferry service would offer many advantages to the region, including: • add a new environmentally‐friendly commuter transit option between Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland; • alleviate traffic congestion and gridlock along our major commuter arteries; • improve our ability to evacuate residents, transport military personnel and supplies, during emergencies; and • link ferry origin and destination points to existing and planned road, transit, bicycle, and trail networks thereby improving connectivity in the region. The Need The growing congestion on Interstate 95 and our road system as well as “standing room only” capacity constraints on our local bus and rail service, a fleet of commuter ferries is needed to alleviate gridlock and provide residents with an additional transit alternative. In addition, the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) 2011 decisions at Fort Belvoir Army Base and Quantico Marine Corps Base will require additional capacity as families alter their commuting patterns in the region. While 96 percent of employees at these locations currently use their personal vehicles to get to work, the military has developed a transportation management plan to reduce single occupancy vehicle (SOVs) use by 40 percent. Achieving this goal will mean increasing pedestrian travel to the base from 0.5 percent to 5 percent, introducing alternatives to get people out of their cars, and providing connections to regional transit solutions. A commuter ferry service could provide a viable transportation alternative in BRAC –affected communities. Feasibility Many important steps have been taken to assess the interest and viability of a commuter ferry service in the region. In 2007, Prince William County’s Future Commission published a report advocating ferry service for the area by 2030. Later that year, a candidate for local elected office (and former Chairman of the Future Commission) was instrumental in chartering a commuter ferry for a week‐long trip to Prince William County and invited members of the public to ride for free. In March 2009, as part of a feasibility study, the Prince William County Department of Transportation conducted a high‐speed Ferry Route‐Proving Exercise (2009 RPE) on the Occoquan, Potomac, and Anacostia Rivers for two purposes: 1) To assess the operating feasibility of ferry service; and 2) To determine actual travel times from multiple points in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. This study also included an analysis of the noise and possible environmental impacts, e.g., wake, of ferry service and estimated the needed capital and operating issues associated with service in the region. Among the issues addressed in the report was the required number of ferry passengers needed to financially sustain such a service. July 11, 2011 2
The 2009 RPE study predicted a ridership of 340,000 person trips per year. Commuters who live in the Washington, DC ‐area suburbs, particularly military personnel and contractors, were considered one of the primary users of this service. To serve these commuters, the proposed service would include: Quantico Marine Corps Base; NSF‐
Indian Head; Marshall Hall; Fort Belvoir; National Harbor; the City of Alexandria; Reagan National Airport; and the Washington Navy Yard, among others. Finally, the 2009 RPE report recommended conducting a more rigorous market analysis that would account for all significant variables affecting usage of a ferry service. Value to the Capital Region The goal of the commuter ferry is to complement the region’s overall transit network. The purpose is not to take riders off existing transit, e.g., buses and trains; but to take commuters out of their vehicles and off our congested road system. The experience of riding a ferry on the river to work – experiencing the aesthetic beauty of our rivers in reclining leather seats with free wi‐fi – in quick time – will serve as a magnet to those wanting to avoid the gridlock of an Interstate. The 2010 Urban Mobility Report, published by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, shows that drivers in the Washington, D.C., region spend 70 hours per year sitting in traffic, which amounts to almost a week of lost productivity. Our region has now surpassed Los Angeles in terms of traffic gridlock and is 2nd in the nation with regards to commuter stress. The Urban Mobility Report noted that these commuters waste 57 gallons of gasoline per year, which amounted to a direct‐dollar impact of $177.41/commuter. Service Commuter ferry service will give passengers a unique and convenient commuting experience. To differentiate the service from the Virginia Railway Express, slug lines or bus service, the ferry will feature reclining leather seats, free Wi‐Fi, wide‐screen television monitors, and a coffee/snack bar. Not only will commuters enjoy all of these on‐board amenities, the natural beauty of the river will help provide a relaxing commute. The 2009 RPE project team researched potential impacts to ferry service, including ice, fog, high waves, and debris in the river. While some impact would be experienced when these events occur, the impact is limited to slower travel times (river ice could July 11, 2011 3
require suspension of service for the rush hour). Fortunately, total icing of the Potomac has not occurred during the past three winters, indicating that this is likely to be a rare occurrence. Additionally, most of these conditions are predictable several days in advance, so passengers could be given sufficient advance notice to make alternate travel arrangements. Origin/Destination The 2009 RPE Report identified several service points which generally fall into two categories, origin points and destination points. To be considered a viable origin point a location had to be reasonably accessible by those who are likely to use a commuter ferry service and not require major infrastructure improvements. To be considered a viable destination point, a location had to be reasonably close to a commuter’s final destination point. A list of the potential service points utilized in planning the route proving exercise is included below: • Prince William Marina, Woodbridge, Virginia Origin • Occoquan Harbour Marina, Woodbridge, Virginia Origin • Belmont Bay Marina, Woodbridge, Virginia Origin • Quantico Marine Base, Quantico, Virginia Destination • Harbor Station, Woodbridge, Virginia Origin • Indian Head Naval Support Facility, Indian Head, Maryland Destination • Fort Belvoir (Gunston Cove), Fairfax County, Virginia Destination • Marshall Hall, Prince George’s County, Maryland Origin Origin/Destination • National Harbor, Prince George’s County, Maryland • Alexandria City Pier, Alexandria, Virginia Origin/Destination • National Airport, Alexandria, Virginia Destination • Washington Channel, Washington, D.C. Destination • Nationals Stadium/Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. Destination Fleet Based on the data collected during the 2009 RPE, the project team developed proposed characteristics for a ferry vessel on the region’s river system. The ideal ferry vessel would be multi‐hulled, have a draft of no more than 3.5 feet, have an average cruising speed of 34 mph, be single deck, and hold approximately 100 passengers. The ferries would not be designed to carry automobiles as other cities do. July 11, 2011 4
The ideal fleet will consist of “green” vessels that operate using bio‐diesel engines and solar panels to conserve energy and limit impacts on the environment. Bicycles will be allowed for those who bicycle to the ferry. Ridership Ridership will likely include private and public sector employees and military personnel. The ferry will provide critical links between: • military bases; • residential and job locations; • tourist destinations; • airport and tourist destinations; and • other transit alternatives, including trails. By inputting current commuting conditions from Prince William County to Washington, D.C. into the existing model utilized in the VDOT 2000 ferry feasibility study, the 2009 RPE study team found that predicted ridership on a permanent commuter ferry service would be approximately 340,000 person‐trips per year. Next Steps A Commuter Ferry Service Stakeholders group was established in September 2010. The group is comprised of local, state, and federal government and elected officials, representatives of the branches of the military, academia/universities, and private sector representatives (ferry owner/operators). The group’s purpose is to conduct a market analysis in 2011 to assess the public’s interest and willingness to ride a ferry should it become a reality. Several additional steps have been recommended beyond the market analysis, should the results of the analysis indicate that a sufficient ridership exists, including: • identify public and private sector funding opportunities to help subsidize the cost of ferry capital and operating expenses; • conduct an environmental assessment to determine the possible impacts of service on the environment; • prepare a preliminary capital and operating plan and budget needed to operationalize the service; July 11, 2011 5
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determine the governance structure needed to take ownership of the service, including contracting, maintenance, and Board membership (if the service is not operated by a private corporation). Closing Given the forecasted population growth, pending impacts of the BRAC decisions, existing gridlock, limited capacity of our road system, and our history with water‐based transportation alternatives, a commuter ferry service along our river system holds promise as a transit alternative to our region’s multi‐modal transportation network. Commuter ferry service would take advantage of an existing, unused transportation asset and provide commuters with a convenient alternative to traveling on the region’s congested roadways. In Prince William County’s Future Commission 2030 report, citizens envisioned a water‐based transportation service to serve the region. “A water ferry provides transportation to Washington, D.C. and Maryland along the Potomac River…These services are used for commuting, as a regular means of transportation, and for residents and tourists to reach historic towns and sites along the shoreline.” The thousands of residents who participated in the 2030 visioning process clearly stated the vision for an effective, efficient commuter ferry service. It’s now up to area governments, public officials, private employers and individual residents to help make the vision a reality. Additional information about ferry service and the stakeholder group is available by contacting Mark Gibb, Northern Virginia Regional Commission. July 11, 2011 6
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