Hovercrafts pitched for public transit

Hovercrafts pitched for public transit

By Michelle Doblanko

A commuter hovercraft service on the Ottawa River is the answer to relieving congestion on area bridges, says hovercraft aficionado Philippe Marcil.

“Right now our bridges are overflowing with cars, and our traffic situation won’t improve until another bridge is built,” says Marcil. “A hovercraft commuter service could effectively transport people across the Ottawa River and lessen the strain on our bridges.”

Marcil currently operates a business that promotes recreational hovercraft use at Ottawa area events.

He’s proposing a two-year pilot project that would have a passenger hovercraft run between the Aylmer Marina, Dominion Station on Ottawa’s Transitway and Champlain Park in Gatineau. He says this stretch of river has low water levels and rapids that make it nearly impossible for a ferry to operate, but a hovercraft could easily manage.

Marcil is looking for private investors to help finance the project, but he says he’ll also need subsidies from the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau in order to keep fares low while the service gains popularity. If all goes well, he hopes the service will be running by September.

The 18-kilometre route would be served by one 76-passenger hovercraft running every 20 minutes. Since hovercrafts operate on both water and ice, the service would run year round.

If the pilot project were a success, a second line between Dominion Station and Chaudiere Park in Gatineau could be considered. The service will be aimed at both commuters and tourists. Attracting a dependable clientele and private investors could take time, admits Marcil, because the concept is relatively new and rarely used in North America.

“Hovercrafts have been used extensively between Britain and France for the past 50 years, so it’s still a relatively new form of transportation,” he says. “People already feel comfortable in cars and trains, whereas they know very little about hovercrafts so it could take time for interest to catch on.”

Marcil plans to lease a hovercraft from the town of Shediac, N.B. Since nearly all the stops chosen have loading dock and parking facilities in place, he says the major operating costs would come from running the hovercraft.

It costs approximately $800,000 to run a hovercraft for six months. That’s about $4,500 a day.

Marcil says he would conduct a feasibility study to determine the fare schedule and how many daily trips the service would offer.

Gaining approval to run the service on the river is complicated. The National Capital Commission (NCC) controls the river’s shorelines, while Transport Canada regulates the waterway. The cities of Gatineau and Ottawa would also need to be consulted.

“A number of players would have to be around the table in this type of project,” says Laurie Peters, spokesperson for the NCC. “Still, interprovincial travel for tourism or commuter purposes is something we have great interest in and is taken seriously within the region.”

Ottawa city councillor Alex Cullen says more information is needed about the proposal.

“It’s a novel idea and one worth looking at. Our bridges are at capacity and anything that can get people out of cars is a good idea,” he says.

Transport 2000 Canada, a public transit lobby group, supports the idea and says choosing the right locations to complement existing mass transit systems will ensure the venture’s success.

“If routes are chosen carefully, Transport 2000 Canada thinks the project could work,” says president Harry Gow. “In some cases, a person could get off the hovercraft, walk across the street and board a bus. What could be easier?”