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Rochester and the Curse of the Fast Ferry

It's the curse that keeps on cursing.

Anyone from Rochester will know what is referred to....the fast ferry, that lake-going vessel that is yet plunging the city through descending levels of financial hell which even Dante never imagined.

It seemed like such a good idea. Bring a high-speed ferry to Rochester, so that the folks in Toronto, whom we all know are itching to visit our town, could hop over the big lake in no time. Sure, it was expensive, but then, great ideas are never cheap! Where's that checkbook? Whadyamean, you're opposed? You got something against progress? But the operation lost money the instant it touched a million dollars a month. A new administration decided, within days of taking power, that enough was enough, and put the boat up for sale, pleased to escape with a taxpayer tab of only $20 million (now $28 million), assuming they could sell the boat. It was an optimistic assumption.

There was this outfit, Euroferries, that straight off said they wanted the vessel, and city luminaries gave each other high-fives. But that was almost a year ago. You can only drag your feet so long, and so Mayor Duffy sent the city lawyer to go eyeball to eyeball with those guys. Yes, look them in the eye, just like a TV anchorman, and peer into their soul. It was a wise move, for their soul revealed that they did indeed like the boat, but they didn' the....uh....dough. So the city cut them loose and retreated to square one. That way the boat won't sit ten years awaiting a new owner, or at least awaiting Euroferries as a new owner.

Alas, throughout this long saga, it's hard to avoid the impression that sharpie businesspeople have been playing city officials like Prince played his guitarat the Superbowl. I mean, our boys are politicians, for crying out loud! It hardly seems fair.

Many projects are achieved by trampling the opposition under your feet. If you wait for all the bickerers, backbiters, and foot draggers to come on board, you’ll never get anything done. Noble projects get done this way. This, they tell me, was the story behind the fast ferry. If it works out, the doer is a visionary. A hero. Who cares how he got it done? Running down the whiners is brilliant, an absolutely essential, strategy! But God help that doer if the vision doesn’t pan out!

Isn't there a war somewhere following this general pattern?

Too bad for the first mayor, Bill Johnson. He worked tirelessly and obviously had the city’s interest at heart. But he will be remembered only for “Johnson’s folly.” Fortunately for him, since the next administration scuttled the deal, he will always be able to say "if only." If only they had hung in there. If only they had marketed more. If only they had gone to other places, say the 1000 islands, not just Toronto. If only they had prayed more. And maybe he's right. Nobody will ever know for sure.

Nor can they say they weren't warned. Contrary to popular belief, the city was advised beforehand that the project didn’t have a snowball’s chance in you-know-where. Not wanting to rush blindly into a deal of such magnitude, the city engaged the Carriertom Into-Wishin Research Institute to provide a feasibility study.

Carriertom completed its report in record time, a mere three days, since they are fun-loving people there at the Institute, and could not resist calling their report the fast fast ferry study. True, the haste was at the expense of accuracy, but it was not thought to be out of harmony with the company’s motto “That’s Close Enough!“ After all, Carriertom doesn’t charge much, and in these days of high fuel prices, that’s always a valid consideration. As it turned out, it didn’t matter anyway.

For, not wishing to be ambiguous nor make local politicians do a lot of reading, the report arrived in a dust jacket with bold lettering: Fast Ferry Won’t Work! Alas, this tactic backfired, because they are very politically correct over there at City Hall, and the mail room clerk, upon seeing the dust jacket, misinterpreted it to be a slur against gay people! And a groundless slur at that, since the city has hired several gay persons, and has found they work just fine. Indeed, they are model employees. Enraged, the clerk hurled the report into the trash! Thus, valuable research, which city fathers desperately needed, never reached their eyes.

The next day, the city of Rochester spent God knows how many millions to purchase and transport the boat to harbor. Six months later, a new administration canned the floundering operation, and it's been root canal sailing ever since.

That’s the true story, which the Carriertom Institute is eager to tell so that it may not be unjustly blamed for the failed project. They tried, they really did.

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About three weeks after this post, the boat sold, and it's soon to be shuttling back and forth the strait of Gibralter. FRS, a German firm, was the buyer. Our boys did not get taken to the cleaners, it seems. FRS says they drove a tough bargain, and the boat fetched more with these new guys than it would have with Euroferries.

Maybe city fathers played up the fact that it had never seen salt, at least not recently.

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