TTC chair, minister mull commuting along the water

There are challenges to running ferries in our northern climate.


The idea may not eventually float, but there is something about ferries that catches the attention of people in this lakeside metropolis.


After a recent trip to Halifax, TTC chair Adam Giambrone suggested Toronto look at waterborne transit as a way to augment east-west travel.


It’s just an idea at this point, but one with a history. Ferries used to ply many waterways and lakes in the province, but most regular service died out 50 years ago.

Since then, there have been several failed private sector attempts to carry passengers across Lake Ontario to places like St. Catharines and Rochester.

Giambrone was inspired by plans to expand Halifax’s current frequent ferry service — as well as by the emergence of a new generation of faster watercraft.

The Toronto proposal seems borne of the fact that existing transit options along Lake Ontario are at capacity or take too long. Giambrone cites the presence of massive parking lots at a park along the Scarborough Bluffs and more spaces for cars near Humber Bay.

While there is already a ferry dock at the base of Bay Street, it might have to be upgraded and new ones would be needed in the east and west. But the TTC shouldn’t have to study this idea on its own.

Ontario Transport Minister Donna Cansfield says her government has recently started looking anew at ships — particularly for goods movement. She has even floated the idea of a “GO boat.”

However, Rob MacIsaac, chair of the provincially mandated Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, has said GO trains already travel along the lakeshore.

“We have a highly developed service along that corridor now,” he says, “and we plan to add to it.”

Water can be a cheap way to move people and freight, but there are challenges to running ferries in our northern climate. Ice and rough weather are real issues, and we need to ask how many boats and docks would be required to make any real difference in congestion.

Although it is reported that Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation once studied the possibility of cross-lake ferries, officials did not confirm the existence of any such report yesterday.

If Toronto’s transit commission wants to consider ferries, it shouldn’t try to reinvent the propeller. Any responsible research should immediately involve the province, as well as taking advantage of the free, thought-out (and fairly critical) discussion of the topic at transit guru Steve Munro’s website,

TTC commissioners might also ask: Does the agency have the resources to examine ferries along with major new plans to expand subways and light rail? Are other options for better service also getting their share of attention — such as express bus routes on existing streets throughout Toronto, for example?