Commissioner Mapps shoots hole in Frog Ferry hopes

(Photo: Friends of Frog Ferry)

“The headwinds for this project are strong.”

– Mingus Mapps, Portland city commissioner

At a city council meeting Wednesday, Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps shared very bad news for backers of Frog Ferry, a project that would bring ferry transit to the Willamette River.

In response to Frog Ferry advocates who spoke at the beginning of the meeting, Mapps told them he has seriously cooled on the project. Several ferry backers, including Frog Ferry President Susan Bladholm, came to council to urge them to add the project into the the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), a federally-required list managed by Metro that puts projects in line for federal funding consideration.

Below is Mapps response in full (edited slightly for clarity):

Mapps. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“I support this project, I share your vision. I respect you. And because I respect you, I’m also going to speak some truth right now. And this is going to be difficult.

I think everyone on this council when people all throughout this region can understand and embrace the vision of bringing a ferry to the city. I will also tell you that the headwinds for this project are strong. If you’ve paid attention to some of the conversations we’ve had in this chamber over the last several weeks, you’ve seen me come to my colleagues and talk about the grim economic facts. That PBOT’s budget is fundamentally unstable and flawed. I’m busy trying to figure out how to cut $32 million for PBOT’s budget. That’s about a third of our discretionary dollars, which is a challenge. Which also means that expanding and creating a new mode of transportation, even one which I think would be a great benefit to our community, is awfully difficult.

Now I’m sure some folks will say, ‘But Commissioner Mapps, listen, we’re not asking for dollars from PBOT.’ But in terms of how this fits together, If I put the ferry on the Regional Transportation Plan [RTP], it means I don’t put some other infrastructure projects into that slot, that I kind of have to get done, which the feds might reasonably provide us some help [with].

I also want to talk about some of the other challenges that we face here. I think this project would be great if our partners across the river in Vancouver were enthusiastic, but our elected leaders in Vancouver have told me in no uncertain terms that they do not plan to build a Frog Ferry terminal in Vancouver. And I will also tell you, our partners over at TriMet have also expressed concerns to me about how this project would interact with their transportation system. Now I see some heads shaking; but you know, I’ve talked to them [TriMet] and they tell me that, you know, one of the your requests to them if we move forward with this project, I think they’ve been asked to withdraw some bus lines in certain neighborhoods that we’re talking about… and I’m not a TriMet expert, but I will tell you what I will tell you the kind of reception that I received when I talked to our regional partners about trying to move this forward.

Now, we are not making a vote today. And I know this conversation will continue over the next couple of weeks; but because I respect you and I want to honor your activism, I also just feel obliged to actually be straight with you about what our current field position is. And of course you can reach out to my office you can reach out to my colleagues on council, you can reach out to our partners in Vancouver and our friends over at TriMet. I recognize that it is upsetting to many and this is disappointing. But in my professional evaluation, that is where we’re at today.”

This is a big blow to Frog Ferry, especially as the group tried to regain momentum after missing a key grant deadline and failing to get the previous PBOT Commissioner on board last year.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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JM
JM
6 months ago

I don’t understand the Trimet comment. Why would they need to cut certain bus lines? This project seems like a complementary service, not in direct conflict with any lines. Even if we eventually had a frequent commuter train between Portland and Vancouver, the ferry would service different markets because the stations would be in different places.

Karl Dickman
6 months ago
Reply to  JM

I’ve talked to them [TriMet] and they tell me that, you know, one of the your requests to them if we move forward with this project, I think they’ve been asked to withdraw some bus lines in certain neighborhoods that we’re talking about

If Commissioner Mapps is accurately paraphrasing Trimet, it sounds to me like Frog Ferry is asking Trimet to cut bus service that would compete with the Ferry. It’s a little hard to parse, and it’s a game of telephone (Mapps says Trimet says Frog Ferry said). I hope there’s a misunderstanding somewhere in the chain of transmission.

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  Karl Dickman

The hard fact is that this silly ferry idea can’t even compete with a bus. A non-stop bus even going from their out-of-the-way ferry ports would still get to downtown in less time, at a fraction of the operating cost.

This project is really bad. We need to kill it dead.

Atreus
Atreus
6 months ago
Reply to  JM

It’s because Frog Ferry have made it pretty clear that their ultimate goal is that eventually the service would be subsidized by TriMet just like any other transit service, in which case it would eventually compete with other service lines. I don’t think anybody has put forth a credible argument that this could survive as a purely private service charging fares high enough to cover their costs. That never works, because the fare needed for cost recovery is pretty much always much higher than people’s willingness to pay, starting a downward spiral of fare hikes and ridership drops. This is why nearly all transit service is subsidized with tax dollars nowadays. Frog Ferry is trying to raise enough private money and grants to get a pilot going, then will use that pilot to build a constituent base to support the project, then will rally that base of support to get TriMet or the City to subsidize the service. I think elected officials are right to be deeply skeptical of this.

dw
dw
6 months ago

Frog Ferry is a dumb idea. Put the time, energy, and dollars toward getting MAX to Vancouver and St. Johns instead.

ShadowsFolly
ShadowsFolly
6 months ago
Reply to  dw

Much better, cheaper, and more flexible solution would be to have a dedicated bus lane with high capacity buses going between Vancouver, St John, or anywhere else. Let’s not continue to go down the path of wasting tax money on trains when the money can be much better spent on buses.
And I say this as a long time Max and bus rider.

Daniel Reimer
6 months ago

Ferries make sense in places where physical structures are difficult such as the Puget Sound in Seattle or Vancouver Harbor in BC. When there are shorter connections across land (such as the planned MAX extension to vancouver or i5), I fail to see why a ferry makes sense other than a novelty.

Watts-off
Watts-off
6 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

I fail to see why a ferry makes sense

It makes sense because someone got a grant to pursue this, and now they need to spend it.

Atreus
Atreus
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts-off

But they didn’t get a grant. They have applied for grants, which have been rejected so far.

BB
BB
6 months ago
Reply to  Atreus

She has already scammed a $500,000 grant from TriMet in 2020 for this career of hers.
Your comment shows exactly why these people get away with this.
The public is so ill informed and basically just dumb that you think she has not received any funds.
She has probably lived pretty well on a half million dollars of taxpayer money the last 3 years.
This is just so ridiculous.

Atreus
Atreus
6 months ago
Reply to  BB

I meant like a real grant, a grant that would allow them to operate service. $500,000 is a pittance in the world of public transit, not enough to do much of anything.

David Hampsten
6 months ago
Reply to  Atreus

They’ll get a grant as soon as the $7 billion CRC2 gets cancelled.

John V
John V
6 months ago

Wow, Mapps’ judgment seemed to improve just from my reading of the headline, only to be dropped even lower given the first sentence of his statement.

I support this project, I share your vision.

dw put it well. It’s a dumb idea.

John L
John L
6 months ago
Reply to  John V

I think he’s just trying to let them down gently. You know, like “I wish I had better news for you, but . . . “

The ferry didn’t make sense pre-pandemic, and it makes less sense now with WFH, Trimet in existential crisis, and PBOT reaping its harvest of mismanagement.

qqq
qqq
6 months ago

I’m trying to think of a character from TV or literature who’s as annoying as the Frog Ferry in the way they just keep popping back into the story after you thought they were finally gone for good. But I can’t.

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
6 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Kyle Schwartz from South Park.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Monty Python’s parrot?

Erin
Erin
6 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Portland MLB

Dave Fronk
Dave Fronk
6 months ago
Reply to  Erin

add Portland WNBA to the list

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
6 months ago

The Frog Ferry is such a dumb “idea” and is an obvious inefficient and costly boondoggle relying on feel-good sentiment as its primary asset.

nuovorecord
nuovorecord
6 months ago

Hey, this might be a quixotic project, but at least it’s been horribly mismanaged.

Wren (Max S)
Wren (Max S)
6 months ago
Reply to  nuovorecord

I’m absolutely flabbergasted at the decision to implement the route map as an animated video instead of a static image that you can read at your own pace.

Mark
Mark
6 months ago

I say move forward just for content idea for South Park or the Simpsons.

Granpa
Granpa
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark

Portland would embrace the ferry if it could be tied to a song with a catchy chorus. Like the Simpson’s Monorail Song

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago

Everyone needs to know that the Frog Ferry is not a serious idea. This is just a grift by Susan Bladholm. It would be a massive waste of public resources, and every possible destination would be better served by busses at a fraction of the cost and environmental impact.

Let's Active
Let's Active
6 months ago

Finally some sane decision-making from Mapps

Dale Svart
Dale Svart
6 months ago

The frog ferry is a diesel powered boondoggle, slow and inefficient. To better serve larger numbers of people in St. Johns and North Portland, let’s put the money into completing the Willamette River Greenway which will immediately allow hundreds of people to travel into town carbon free by bicycle. Are we going to be green or not?

No T
No T
6 months ago
Reply to  Dale Svart

Pretty sure it’s planned to be an all electric ferry, which will be funded 100% through federal IRA tax dollars. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ MAPPS IS A CLOWN.

surejan
surejan
6 months ago

I live near inner SE Division and work in St. John’s. Being able to hop on a ferry at OMSI to Cathedral Park with my bike would be a great transit option for me, far better than my current bus options or e-biking for over an hour. I would definitely use it (if it even worked as promised). But while I personally would benefit from a river ferry that functions, few others really have a commute like mine. I don’t believe it would benefit enough other people to be worth the effort and cost. I just don’t see many people living or working in St. John’s taking advantage of this, given that they specifically would need to live/work within the Willamette/city center corridor for it to be even remotely convenient compared to buses or driving. Even many city employees are still working remote… I could see people crowding the ferries on a nice summer day for a trip to Cathedral Park from city center, especially if St. John’s was ever the up-and coming destination neighborhood it was hyped to become 10 years ago. Otherwise this is a service that would serve next to nobody.

Todd/Boulanger
6 months ago

At this stage the proposal needs some fresh reframing:
The Council should add it to the TSP, not so much as a competitor to the bus, BUT as an alternative mode that could connect Janzen Beach / Hayden island to Vancouver (and vise versa) during the construction congestion of the I-5 IBR (CRC4) AND as a regional resiliency option for when one of the many bridges come down (earthquake, age / deferred maintenance, ship strike ‘hit’, etc.). [There should be FEMA or other emergency disaster funds to tap into.]

X
X
6 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

I can see the point of a provisional mode to cross the Columbia post-disaster. However an inefficient small boat operation that has to go around Kelly Point on every run doesn’t make sense. The amount of subsidy needed to make that pencil out is prohibitive.

In an emergency it would be great to have some combination of road access, docks, barges and tugs earmarked so essential materials and personnel could be moved across the river. In this case a little planning and training would be way more effective than running daily speedboats from Oregon City to Vancouver.

Rick Jasperson
Rick Jasperson
6 months ago

Not sure why PDX needs a ferry to take workers from Vancouver to downtown when there are less and less people going to work downtown. I’d prefer that more of tax dollars weren’t being wasted on boondoggles that will do nothing for the average Portlander, and everything to line pockets of developers who aren’t from here and don’t spend money here.

Dave Fronk
Dave Fronk
6 months ago
Reply to  Rick Jasperson

Not sure why PDX needs a ferry to take workers from Vancouver to downtown when there are less and less people going to work downtown

Could make the same argument for MAX on the new interstate bridge.

Douglas K.
Douglas K.
6 months ago

The Frog Ferry projects a 25 minute express trip between Cathedral Park and South Waterfront. I have no idea who would need that, but I’m betting it’s not very many people.

Right now, Trimet #16 takes 24 minutes to get from St. Johns to downtown 1st and Oak, and that’s while making multiple stops. If there was a need for the Frog Ferry route, an express bus down Naito Parkway would be a lot faster and cheaper – particularly after taking into account boarding and deboarding time.

Yeah, a ferry ride is fun. But it doesn’t meet any transit need at all, and certainly can’t do the job better than a bus would.

Douglas K.
Douglas K.
6 months ago
Reply to  Douglas K.

I just tried out the “bus alternative” in Google Maps. I assumed an express bus (aka “car”) from the Lombard & Burlington transit hub to River Place via Hwy 30 and Naito Parkway. It takes 19 minutes without traffic.

Even adding in another 5 minutes with traffic delays, it’s still a wash.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
6 months ago
Reply to  Douglas K.

I’ve set aside ferry ideas for a not too distant future when they might operate a jagged loop between South Waterfront, OMSI, Salmon Springs Fountain, Centennial Mills and back to South Waterfront with same stops between on summer weekends for fun. I’m not at all impressed with Mr Mapps jive talk.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
6 months ago

How about a protected bike network from St. John’s to the central eastside

J_R
J_R
6 months ago

The way that the Frog Ferry continues to pop up time after time after what should have been its death leads me to suggest a new name: Hydra after the mythological Greek serpent that grew two heads for every one Hercules chopped off.

Stop it. Just stop it.

Costs would be really high, travel time would be uncompetitive with a bus, reliability would be dismal since the time would be affected by weather and river conditions.

It’s the very definition of a boondoggle.

qqq
qqq
6 months ago

My dog has nearly quadruple the number of Instagram followers that the Frog Ferry does. And nobody gave him any grants (that I’m aware of).

Their website still has a glowing letter of support from Mingus Mapps from last May.

Their list of supporters reminds me of Theranos, the scam company that defrauded investors out of $700 million, and became a $10 billion valuation company before collapsing. Theranos sucked in a few investors with name recognition, then used them to get a few more, then a few more, until people realized the company was worthless.

The Frog Ferry support letters look like that:
https://frogferry.com/support/letters-of-support/