By Sierra Moore
This is the third story in a 3-part Great Lakes Echo series on sustainable transport in the region.
A few months ago in late September, Hoverlink Ontario Inc. held an open house to announce its plan to build the first-ever hovercraft transit service in North America.
Chris Morgan, the CEO and founder of the company, estimates the cost to build its hovercraft at between $15 and $20 million.
According to its website, Hoverlink Ontario is privately owned by Canadian investors and seeks to make transit more seamless, accessible and environmentally friendly.
It plans to carry 180 passengers at a time across Lake Ontario between Toronto and Niagara Falls in just 30 minutes.
“We are only looking to be at 20-27% capacity in the first year and then over a six-year period maybe 60%,” said Morgan.
Morgan projects one-way passenger fares to be $25-$30. “Minimum wage here is $15 and it’s taking you two hours to drive to Toronto and two hours home, so we look at it that way.”
Seems too good to be true?
Terry Johnson, the president of the board of Transport Action Canada, said he is hopeful about the project.
“It would be great to see this thing work because there are a ton of intriguing possibilities if we can prove a good use case of hovercraft in North America,” said Johnson, whose group is an advocate for public transportation passengers.
While Johnson said he feels confident, this isn’t the first time somebody has tried to take a shortcut across Lake Ontario.
In the past, hovercrafts were turbine-driven, “very loud and burned a lot of gas. More modern versions have switched to a more conventional diesel engine, much quieter and much more fuel- efficient,” said Johnson.
“We’re using biodiesel fuel when the weather permits, so we burn off 98.9% of all GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions before they’re ever emitted into the atmosphere, so we’re down to 1.2% GHG,” said Morgan.
According to Johnson, hovercraft have a cushion of air that sits underneath the vessel. There is relatively low friction overall, so it’s almost as if it’s flying over water.
However, you might be wondering what happens when the lake freezes over?
Because hovercrafts are well-insulated, they can go over fairly large obstacles like ice ridges. In fact, with their significant asset of speed, they glide better over ice than water, making the project more intriguing, said Johnson.
One of the main concerns in operating a hovercraft is its vulnerability to cross winds.
“When the weather is bad, you have to be careful because riding a hovercraft can be a bit like riding Sea-Doos,” said Johnson.
According to Johnson, a freak wave accidentally flipped over a hovercraft in the United Kingdom many years ago.
However, that hovercraft was very small, and Johnson said he’s reassured by the fact that the hovercraft Hoverlink Ontario plans is “very large, flat and hard to flip over. It has to be very energy-efficient to move that number of people.”
One of his main concerns is getting people to and from the hovercraft terminal. “That will make it or break it.”
“Ontario Place [where the company plans to dock the hovercraft in Toronto] is quite close to downtown, but not exactly the most captivating hub of public transportation,” said Johnson.
Morgan says electric buses will be stationed at each port and the cost to ride those buses to main destinations are already included with the ticket price.
“For a $25 ticket [going to Toronto], we have two or three designated routes that take you to the downtown core or up to Pearson Airport or to sporting or entertainment areas,” said Morgan. “And we do the same thing in Niagara where we have buses that go to Niagara Lake, Niagara Falls and St. Catherines.”
Johnson said that because Toronto and Niagara Falls are summer tourist destinations, a 30-minute ride should be an intriguing enough incentive to fill the seats on the vessel.
“Another big part of the market will be people working in the St. Catherines port [where the hovercraft will be docked near Niagara Falls] and working in Toronto,” said Johnson,“because it will give them back two hours of the day. That is tremendous. That is being able to see a kid’s ball game in the evening rather than having to hear about it after being stuck in traffic for two hours.”
“People should actually love this,” said Johnson.
Morgan said the company is still waiting for the final permits and approvals before beginning construction.
“We still have a long way to go, we are doing an application about where our spillway meets the water and if there are any species at risk,” said Morgan “so we’re getting there, but those are the things that are out of my control.”
After 11 years of preparing for the project, Morgan wants to ensure that everything is thought through from the safety of the wildlife below to the effects the construction zone has on traffic before beginning to build the hovercraft.
While taking all precautions before building, Morgan is eager to start the project and says, “At the end of the day, it’s what it has to be. We gotta fix the future.”
Listen to the sustainable transportation group podcast link below.