Testing The Waters

By Angelo Mancuso

If someone were to say to you, “More Canadians will use the fast ferry between Rochester and Toronto than Americans,” back when the ferry was someone’s pipe dream, you probably would have replied, “what’s in your pipe?”

I mean, it seems more logical that the exodus would be from dreary old Rochester heading to T.O. After all we are talking about Toronto. One of the most travelled to, cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Or are we? Somewhere in all the confusion we forgot that Canadians still like to shop in the U.S. because many items are still cheaper, especially when the Canadian dollar is maintaining strength over its U.S counterpart. According to the ferry operator, more Canadians used the service than Americans.

But this really only scratches the surface. Because, after all, the United States and Canada share the largest unprotected border in the world. When all the pettiness is put to rest, we really do have exceptional relations between us and sometimes it takes the form of capitalism testing the waters.

So let’s forget about who was using the ferry more. The fact is that we temporarily lost a great opportunity for both cities when the ferry was taken out of commission. Two days prior to my arrival in Toronto to cover the Toronto International Film Festival the ferry’s operators CATS, or Canadian American Transportation Systems, shuttered their doors and ceased operations much to the dismay of many Rochesterians. As I would later find out upon my arrival in Toronto, most Torontonians felt the same way.

Many of my Canadian counterparts asked what happened to the ferry. Just because I was born, raised and currently call Rochester home I apparently must be an expert on why the ferry’s operations sank so quickly. Based on the amount of press the ferry received, I — along with a million other people who live in my community — may have a little more insight to the ferry’s problems. Since CATS is based in Rochester there has been no shortage of opinions and debate on the future of the boat.

The one thing I am sure of is that there are several parties involved, all with some control over the ferry. There are the operators, Canadian Customs, U.S. Customs, Australian lenders and private investors and it seems as if it took the stoppage of service to have any real discussion about issues pertaining to the boat’s viability.
Here are the first five of the many issues that come to mind affecting the discontinuation of service. One: a few days prior to the ferry’s maiden voyage, Canadian Customs came up with a $2,500 a day surcharge to pay for additional customs expenses. Two: more than a few days prior to service, CATS didn’t ask the question of Canadian Customs, will we be charged a fee for customs? Three: U.S. Customs requires an American boat pilot navigate the ship into any U.S. port. Since the boat was flying a Bahamian flag and didn’t have U.S. nationals piloting the boat at sea, which was in large part due to the mortgage not being officially turned over to CATS by the Australian mortgage company, the additional cost of a U.S. pilot was $6,000 per day. Four: U.S. Customs did not allow commercial vehicles passage on the ship, this at a cost in lost revenue of $18,000 per day. Five: the ferry operators were expecting to be granted a gambling license which would also bring additional revenue to CATS.

To add insult to injury, Amerada Hess, this ferry operator’s fuel supplier, said they wanted to be paid for their already consumed fuel, even though the service is in limbo, and sued CATS. A judge in U.S. Federal Court granted in favour of Hess and a judgement was issued. Then agents from the U.S. Marshall’s Service impounded the vessel until the gas bill was paid up.

If there are any shining stars in this whole fiasco, it would have to be U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. and Toronto’s Mayor David Miller. All three have used their influence and office in an admirable way helping government agencies and private organizations to work towards resolving their problems.

What’s next? We sit and wait for the Australian lenders to decide the fate of the boat.

Angelo Mancuso presently resides in Rochester. He is a filmmaker and accredited journalist for radio, television and print

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