With 57 passengers on board, the Jet Express II backed away from the Toledo Maritime Center yesterday morning, eased its way under the Craig Memorial Bridge, then revved its jet engines for its journey out the Maumee River and across western Lake Erie to South Bass Island's Put-in-Bay.
Thus departed the first ferry to serve the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's $3.2 million ferry terminal on the Maumee River.
William Carroll, chairman of the port authority's board of directors, lauded the first ferry trip during a predeparture news conference as an important element in Toledo's future as a transportation center with a convergence of road, rail, air, and water modes.
"Passengers are the most important intermodal transportation there is," Mr. Carroll said, adding that the rising prices of gasoline and especially marine fuel should provide ample incentive for Put-in-Bay visitors to use a Toledo-based ferry if one were available on a regular basis.
"Hopefully, this will be the first step to many trips running out of Toledo," said Lance Woodworth, the director of operations for Put-in-Bay Boat Line Co., the Jet Express ferry operator.
But how many more such trips there will be, and whether ferry service with any sort of regular schedule ever will land in Toledo, remained an open question.
Tom Brady, the boat line's advertising director, expressed disappointment that only 15 passengers bought $55 tickets for yesterday's excursion. The other 42, who won their trips in a contest sponsored by Pepsi and local radio stations WIOT-FM and WVKS-FM, accounted for less than half of the actual contest winners.
Pepsi and the radio stations chartered the Jet Express II for the excursion, and Mr. Brady said he expects to run the same charter next year.
The radio stations might try to induce more contest winners to use their tickets, he said, by calling the winners' bosses on live radio and requesting time off from work.
"We hoped to get more paying people than we did," the spokesman said, while acknowledging that the boat line's only advertisements were the 15-second spots associated with the radio contest.
Plans for a casino charter to Detroit on an as-yet undetermined date are under development, Mr. Brady continued, but if advance ticket sales faltered, it could be canceled.
Mr. Woodworth said the Jet Express generally needs more than 100 passengers to break even.
But Todd Blumensaadt, Put-in-Bay Boat Line's vice president and co-owner, said the
Toledo Maritime Center's mere presence is an important step toward developing any ferry operations in Toledo.
"This would be a good deal if they get it going. I would go just for the boat ride," said Jack Streicher, a Toledo resident who came out yesterday just to watch the ferry's departure.
One potential obstacle to scheduled ferry service from the terminal is the CSX Transportation railroad bridge downstream, near the port authority's general cargo dock.
While the Jet Express II fit underneath the Craig bridge without needing a drawbridge opening, the CSX bridge is too low for it.
Yesterday's inbound trip to pick up passengers was delayed by about 30 minutes until the railroad bridge opened, and the outbound trip toward Put-in-Bay with passengers aboard waited at the bridge for about 10 minutes even though no trains passed during that time.
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