A Proven Brand Gets Better

A surge in boardings of the Elizabeth River Ferry during the grand opening weekend of Waterside Live in early May underscored again how this important brand is critical to regional mobility.

Encouraged by a weekend of free service courtesy of Elizabeth River Crossings, customers helped drive ridership to over 14,700 trips across the river. Extended hours for the light rail also helped push that brand’s weekend tally past 13,800.

The good news for the ferry service will continue to strengthen later this spring when the first of Hampton Roads Transit’s four new ferries is pressed into service. The new Elizabeth River Ferry IV looks like the old ones, but has a distinctive difference. There are two doors on port side and two on the starboard allowing for faster boarding and alighting during times of heavy demand.

That will come as a welcome relief to customers who are required to stand in line and wait for ferry customers to disembark before being allowed to board the vessel. With two doors, simultaneous boarding and alighting may be possible. Before the full capabilities of the new ferry are realized, upgrades to the four pedestrian-only docks will be made.

Ferry services are currently provided using three boats: The James C. Echols, constructed in 1982, the Elizabeth River Ferry II, built in 1986, and the Elizabeth River Ferry III, 1990. Because of their age, the structural and mechanical integrity are showing signs of deterioration. New vessels were requested to avoid costly repairs to keep the fleet operational.

The new vessels were purchased through two discretionary ferry grants that HRT competitively sought through federal programs. The four ferries are expected to cost about $7.1 million.

Final U.S. Coast Guard review is underway and marks the final stage of preparation for revenue service scheduled to start this spring. With a new ferry in service, an old one will retire. A second new ferry is also scheduled for delivery this spring and, following approval from the Coast Guard, will enter service.