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Lake Express Ferry Is Still Popular

Sep. 17, 2008
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Lake Express Ferry Is Still Popular

Despite rising diesel prices, regional floods and economic uncertainty, the Lake Express Ferry is on course to match last year’s business performance.

The company kicked off its fifth season in May with a 20% fare increase to cover a 76% annual rise in the price of diesel fuel, leading some to speculate that the season would be “all about the price of fuel.” The ferry is propelled between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Mich., by four Rolls-Royce water jets, and is the only high-speed car ferry operating in the United States.

Rising pump prices for drivers were also a concern early on, but not so much now, says Aaron Schultz, market analyst for the ferry.

“We considered gas prices as an issue early on, but seeing the way travel rebounded, it’s clear that weather, rain and flooding were much larger factors in folks staying home early in the summer,” he says. “Sure, people were cutting back on daily driving due to gas prices, but once it came time to take a summer vacation, they hit the road again.”

Schultz says that July and August business closely tracked last year’s levels. “We sold out time and time again,” he says. Additionally, the ferry transported 1,500 motorcycles in the days before and after Harley-Davidson’s 105th anniversary celebration.

The service offers two round trips a day from May 1 to early June, three round trips a day from June to Sept. 1, and a reduced schedule from Sept. 2 to Nov. 2, making each 80-mile leg in two-and-a-half hours.

Schultz says about 15% of passengers are business travelers, and more than 40% are on two- to four-day vacations. He says the primary motivation for taking the boat is “avoiding Chicago traffic.”

According to a UW-Madison study, the Lake Express Ferry contributes $25 million a year to Milwaukee County’s economy, and employs more than 200 people.

Definition of the Week

Catch-up effect

In any period, the economies of countries that start off poor generally grow faster than the economies of countries that start off rich. (Source: Economist.com.)


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