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.
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.