Firm considers taking over Philly-Camden ferry service, adding water taxis

A RiverLink ferry crossing from Penns Landing to Camden in 2003. Some DRPA board members have suggested getting out of the business rather than spending on upkeep.
A RiverLink ferry crossing from Penns Landing to Camden in 2003. Some DRPA board members have suggested getting out of the business rather than spending on upkeep. (DAVID MAIALETTI / File Photograph)
Posted: November 09, 2011

Ferry service between Philadelphia and Camden may be taken over next year by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., which hopes to expand service and add three 25-passenger water taxis.

The RiverLink ferry has been run since 1999 by the Delaware River Port Authority, which also owns four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey. The agency contracts with HMS Global Maritime Inc. of New Albany, Ind., to operate the ferry.

Ridership was down significantly this year, and with ferry docks requiring expensive repairs, some DRPA board members had suggested getting out of the business rather than spending bridge-toll revenue on upkeep.

Agency officials also have discussed paring service back to weekends and special events.

The 600-passenger ferry, which operates daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day and on weekends in May and September, runs between Penn's Landing in Philadelphia and Wiggins Park in Camden, where it serves attractions such as the Susquehanna Bank Center, Adventure Aquarium, and Campbell's Field.

"There is a strong shared vision that we need to have more waterborne transportation, not less," said Tom Corcoran, president of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.

Corcoran said his organization, the Cooper's Ferry Development Association in Camden, the DRPA, and the ferry operator would meet over the next two months to plan a new ferry operation.

Corcoran said he hoped plans could be finished by early January to have the ferry in operation from April through December next year.

"There could be value added by including the waterfront corporation and Cooper's Ferry" in the ferry operation, DRPA chief executive John Matheussen said. The ferry is not part of the DRPA's core business, he said.

Three new water taxis, unused since they were purchased six years ago to serve a proposed Simon Property Group retail-and-entertainment complex on the Philadelphia waterfront, could be brought out of mothballs, Corcoran said.

The ferry and taxis "could have more stops on both sides" of the Delaware, said Corcoran, who added that service needed to be "more nimble and flexible."

The current operation runs hourly trips in the summer, with express runs to the Susquehanna Bank Center for concerts and other events.

Ridership dropped to 109,946 this year, down from 159,638 in 2010, due to bad weather and fewer concerts. There were 15 concerts at the center over the summer, compared with 27 during the same period last year.

The ferry service has been self-supporting, with the operator keeping most of the proceeds from ticket sales to pay for the service. Under the current contract, the operator also paid DRPA $67,500 this year.

But the DRPA is responsible for maintaining the docks, and with expensive repairs planned, its board has raised questions about staying in the business.

The agency budgeted $740,000 this year and $500,000 in 2012 for a new ferry dock in Camden and an upgraded dock at Penn's Landing.

The federal government is slated to pay 80 percent, about $5 million, of the cost of the ferry terminals.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587


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