(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Currently, people on bikes and on foot pay nothing to use the ferry; but budgets concerns have raised the possibility that that could change. In addition, there is talk among commissioners that the ferry is simply too expensive to keep in operation at all.
“It’s kind of like when you find out something bad has happened to your old car and you have to decide, is the car worth fixing?”
— Ellen Rogalin, Clackamas County Community Relations
Ellen Rogalin, a community relations staffer for Clackamas County, says consideration of higher fees and the ferry’s budget in general have come up for several reasons.
The County had planned to combine a ferry engine renovation project (funded with a federal grant) and a five-year maintenance check-up; but when the Willamette Falls Locks abruptly closed back in December, it meant they couldn’t transport the ferry in the river. Taking the ferry out of river and transporting it overland would cost much more money than they had planned.
Rogalin says now the project is “A huge expense” that caught the attention of County commissioners. Now she says, “We need to look at, is all this worth it?… It’s kind of like when you find out something bad has happened to your old car and you have to decide, is the car worth fixing?”
Rogalin says the County is putting together more information and a survey for ferry users that should be available for public input in the next few weeks. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is set to discuss the matter at a work session in March.
Unlike The Oregonian article implied, Rogalin says the ferry “probably won’t go away.” But she adds that “we have to figure out how to not subsidize it so dramatically.”
It’s likely that the fee structure will change, she says, and there’s a good chance people on bikes will no longer get a free ride. According to The Oregonian, commissioners generally favor raising fees on one-time users and “tourists” while keeping them as low as possible for commuters and local residents.
When I pointed out how many rural roads and highways in Clackamas County also don’t pay for themselves and are highly subsidized, yet face nothing like the scrutiny the ferry is getting, Rogalin said, “That’s a very valid point.”
It’s also worth noting that the Canby Ferry is absolutely crucial as a gateway for bike touring in the Willamette Valley, which is home to Oregon’s marquee Scenic Bikeway route.