National Census of Ferry Operators: Statement of Methodology
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National Census of Ferry Operators: Statement of Methodology

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      The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA–21) (P.L. 105-178), section 1207(c), directed the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study of ferry transportation in the United States and its possessions. In 2000, the FHWA Office of Intermodal and Statewide Planning conducted a survey of approximately 250 ferry operators to identify: (1) existing ferry operations including the location and routes served; (2) source and amount, if any, of funds derived from Federal, State, or local governments supporting ferry construction or operations; (3) potential domestic ferry routes in the United States and its possessions and to develop information on those routes; and (4) potential for use of high speed ferry services and alternative-fueled ferry services. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) Public Law 109-59, Section 1801(e) requires that the Secretary, acting through the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), shall establish and maintain (biennially) a national ferry database containing current information regarding routes, vessels, passengers and vehicles carried, funding sources and such other information as the Secretary considers useful.

      Although ferries have a long history of moving passengers and freight in America, less is known about this mode of transportation than any of the other modes. Regularly surveyed, routine statistics like the number of ferry operators and the number of passengers carried were undocumented prior to the establishment of the National Census of Ferry Operators (NCFO). Part of this knowledge gap was due to the industry’s structure. State and local public transportation agencies operate some ferry systems, but others are privately owned and operated. Another complication is that many operators provide ferry services as well as dinner and sightseeing cruises, whale watching and other types of excursions. As such, it is often difficult to separate these activities.

      The original data collection in 2000 was conducted because the existing data sources on ferry operations lacked some of the critical information needed for a national ferry database. To obtain the missing data, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) contracted to survey all known operators. The survey was conducted by the Volpe National Transportation Center, a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), although not currently a component of RITA. Once the information was verified, it was assembled into a National Ferry Database. Subsequent data collections have been conducted by BTS. At each step, BTS has made revisions to the census instrument to improve the nature of the data collected and maximize the usefulness of the NCFO database. The NCFO database has been an important source of information for various industry agencies. It has also been a key source of information used in the development of Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database, also produced by BTS. The NCFO data is also used to inform the Secretary for the allocation of funds.

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