Frog Ferry group still gung-ho about getting on the water

A mock-up of the Frog Ferry. (Source: FOFF)

“We’re really hopeful that with this new City Council, we can move forward.”

-Susan Bladholm, Friends of Frog Ferry

Over the past few years, the story of the Frog Ferry has seen more twists and turns than the Willamette River. The nonprofit Friends of Frog Ferry (FOFF) launched in 2018 to advocate for a Portland ferry system, and while there were some moments of optimism for the group along the way, the plan seemed to sink. But hold onto your hats, because FOFF is back and still determined to set sail.

Last year, FOFF leaders were trying to gather support from the Portland City Council to apply for a federal grant to get their ferry pilot project going. But there was no dice, in large part due to skepticism from former PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. At a press conference last April, FOFF president and founder Susan Bladholm said Hardesty’s disinterest in the project could be chalked up to a power play. Hardesty maintained that her concerns about the Frog Ferry were because of allegations of financial impropriety against FOFF as well as PBOT’s lack of bandwidth for new transportation projects.

Susan Bladholm at a press conference last year. (Photo: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland)

In September, FOFF leaders announced that since they couldn’t find the political support necessary to secure funding for a pilot project, they’d be putting their program on an indefinite pause. In an interview with BikePortland at the time, FOFF board member Nina Byrd attributed this to the City of Portland’s lack of imagination and unwillingness to innovate on transportation projects.

But other commissioners — primarily Mingus Mapps, who now leads PBOT — expressed more willingness to climb aboard the Frog Ferry project. (However, with Sam Adams’ ousting earlier this year, FOFF lost him as a champion in City Hall.)

With Hardesty out, FOFF is restarting their efforts.

“We’re really hopeful that with this new City Council, we can move forward,” Bladholm said in a January KATU interview. “We must have the city behind us.”

In an email to BikePortland, Bladholm said support from City Council would allow FOFF to access the transportation and climate grants that would allow them to get a ferry on the water as soon as 2025.

“There is money out there—lots of it—but as a nonprofit we can’t directly apply for most of it,” Bladholm wrote. FOFF needs $2.25 million in order to ask for $6 million in federal funds this year and for the next three years, which Bladholm says will result in a 10:1 return on investment.

As the City of Portland finalizes its fiscal year 2023-24 budget, FOFF is launching another effort to persuade city officials to allocate some money for the ferry. They’re encouraging supporters to send testimony to city commissioners by April 25th. The nonprofit will host a news conference and “River Run” event between Cathedral Park in St. Johns and RiverPlace in the South Waterfront this Thursday to simulate the experience of a Willamette River ferry commute.

If FOFF still can’t get public support, leaders say they’re open to pursuing a private option with higher ticket prices. (Right now, proposed one-way ticket prices are $3.) But they want the ferry to be a viable means of public transportation for Portlanders, not just a novelty, so they’re hoping the city will come aboard.

Stay tuned for a BikePortland report from the River Run.

Taylor Griggs (Staff Writer)

Taylor Griggs (Staff Writer)

Taylor has been BikePortland's staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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cc_rider
cc_rider
10 months ago

I can’t for the life of me figure out who they think their customers are. It’s going to be slower than any other method of transportation at a higher cost. Don’t worry though, your car definitely wont get broken into at Cathedral Park.

This just seems like some kind of gimmicky grift. Maybe instead of wasting money on this, the city could finish the North Willamette Greenway and connect St. Johns to the rest of the city instead of forcing us to ride down the death trap that is N Interstate.

dan
dan
10 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

This is an excellent summary of why this project shouldn’t get funded. Given that SOP for our local government seems to be “throw money every which way and raise taxes if it doesn’t stick,” I’m frankly shocked they’re not all in on this.

dwk
dwk
10 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Thats because it is a gimmicky grift….

Chris I
Chris I
10 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Yep. Susan is looking for a paycheck here. If they get the grants, she locks in a guaranteed 6-figure income for years.

This idea is so silly. You could run express buses from St. John’s to downtown in a fraction of the time, for a fraction of the cost. I hope Mapps kills this thing for good.

BreadBoi
BreadBoi
10 months ago

Ferries have a niche. They make sense where alternatives add a significant amount of distance to travel. St. Johns to downtown doesn’t fit that, much less Vancouver to Downtown. This doesnt warrant public subsidy. It would be far better to just run frequent express bus service. That would be faster, cheaper, and more useful.

If FF can get private dollars to spin up then good for them. The city has more urgent transportation priorities than a gimmicky ferry that’s slower than a bus.

Jenni S
Jenni S
10 months ago

I don’t think the new Portland has $ for this. Our city is so unsafe REI has decided to close their flagship store in Portland. We need to focus on the basics like a functional police force before funding questionable projects.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago

The nonprofit Friends of Frog Ferry (FOFF)

The project is a good example of how people with too much time on their hands like to FOFF about.

X
X
10 months ago

A ferry works in places where the alternative surface route is much longer or does not exist. In general ferries will go out of business when a bridge is built nearby. That’s why the many ferries that used to cross the Willamette are gone.

For people who don’t like transit subsidies this is a no-brainer. A boat ride around Kelly Point to get to Vancouver? For people who just want a somewhat novel way to commute between Vancouver, Portland, and Oregon City the Amtrak Cascade is actually somewhat plausible. Sure, it would cost about two grand per person per month, but the city would be money ahead if they subsidize that instead of this boat boondoggle.

 
 
10 months ago

Ugh, these grifters again. Can we just stop covering this asinine proposal and giving these people the attention they crave?

Jenni S
Jenni S
10 months ago
Reply to   

I think it’s taxpayer $ they crave.

Jenni S
Jenni S
10 months ago

Yeah their website looks more like a way to get $ than an organization to improve our transportation system. You can get a “free” FOFF hat for a donation of $150. LOL.
https://frogferry.com/team/

John D.
John D.
10 months ago

It sure would be nice if the money, lobbying, organizing, and media attention that this group has could be focused on common sense, proven solutions.

Create a network of safe, all ages, all abilities, bike and walking infrastructure. Create high quality, reliable bus lines for longer distance travel.

Want a better connection between St. Johns and downtown? Bus improvements are the answer. Want to get people from Vancouver to Portland? MAX and buses.

Our region should have learned it’s lesson from WES. Just because wealthy, connected, influential, privileged people think that something is a good idea, it doesn’t mean we should build a new shiny thing for them. It ends up costing everyone more per rider than the simple, proven solutions do.

We need to invest in alternatives to driving. In fact, we should be increasing our investment. But that doesn’t mean we should be throwing money around carelessly.

Douglas K.
Douglas K.
10 months ago

But they want the ferry to be a viable means of public transportation for Portlanders, not just a novelty

There’s literally nowhere in this entire region where a commuter ferry makes any sense, so it’ll never be anything more than a ridiculously expensive novelty.

FOFF president and founder Susan Bladholm said Hardesty’s disinterest in the project could be chalked up to a power play

Maybe, but I’m guessing Hardesty’s disinterest was because the Frog Ferry offered nothing that buses couldn’t do better.

Michael
Michael
10 months ago

I’ve often wondered if a ferry system might work as a kind of expressway from Willamette Falls hitting major points up the Willamette (maybe even to the Portland and Camas waterfronts, too?), but I worry that the actual time savings versus the bus or MAX wouldn’t pan out. Definitely something I would like regional leaders to consider, but I’m not holding my breath.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
10 months ago

Absolute boondoggle.

J_R
J_R
10 months ago

I would love to take out of town visitors on a cheap river cruise on a beautiful day, but the FFOF would be an absolute money pit as an “innovative transportation project .” Even worse than WES.
I haven’t provided testimony on the city budget in recent years but this inspires me to send comments to the mayor and commissioners telling them to reject this wasteful proposal.

qqq
qqq
10 months ago

According to Friends of Frog Ferry, they already have many “Public Agency Partners”:

Public Agency Partners
Metro: Malu Wilkinson and Commission
City of Portland: PBOT Art Pearce, Mauricio LeClerc, Travel Portland
Parks, BES, BPS, Fire and Rescue, Prosper Portland, Emergency Management
TriMet: Tom Mills
C-Tran: Shawn Donaghy
ODOT: Marsha Hoskins, Karyn Criswell & Cooper Brown
City of Vancouver: Chad Eiken
Multnomah County: Sheriff, Engineering/Bridges

I’d like to hear why each agency on this list is allowing their agency to appear as a “Public Agency Partner”, when, as I understand, there hasn’t been any public decision to support the Frog Ferry. Or, are Friends of Frog Ferry misleading people by listing these agencies as supporters? Or, will they claim that just because they list them as “partners” they’re not trying to give the impression they’re supporters?

https://frogferry.com/team/volunteers/

nuovorecord
nuovorecord
10 months ago
Reply to  qqq

“Or, will they claim that just because they list them as “partners” they’re not trying to give the impression they’re supporters?”

It’s my impression that public agencies just hope this nutty idea sinks to the bottom of the Willamette and is laid to rest with what’s left of the the Yellow Bike fleet. For the agencies, it’s not worth getting into a p*ssing match with the FOFFers for putting their names on their website. None of these agencies are actively working on FF or providing any funding for it.

EP
EP
10 months ago

BUT LOOK! They put bikes on the ferry in the rendering, this must be totally Portland-legit!