Decreased Hours, Credit Cards, Cash from Canby? County Will Try Patchwork Solution to Close Canby Ferry Funding Gap

Clackamas County has spent the better part of a year studying the the Canby Ferry. The process included a detailed traffic study, several well-attended public meetings and a deep dive into the feasibility of a toll bridge at that location — an option commissioners ultimately abandoned based on public comment.

The question has always been, “What to do about the Canby Ferry?” The boat is deeply enmeshed with the history and culture of Canby, but its operations and maintenance cost about $600,000 a year, which is three times what it brings back in passenger fees.

Commissioners made it clear during their own public meeting held at Canby Foursquare Church last month that a $400,000 annual subsidy for a transportation feature that serves only 200 people a day is not something they would entertain for much longer.

County Assistant Transportation Director Mike Bezner and other staff presented the finalized report to the Board of Commissioners this week. The result? No guaranteed solution, but a lot of good ideas, some of which are already being implemented.

These ideas include:

  • Decrease the number of ferry operators required from 2 to 1 (personnel costs are largest factor in the ferry’s expenses, Bezner says)
  • Increase cost of punch card from $3 a trip to $4 a trip
  • Decrease weekday operating hours at non-peak times
  • Close operations during winter months
  • Decrease weekend operating hours and open at 10 a.m.
  • Advertise and market the Canby Ferry
  • Increase fares for bikes/pedestrians and/or vehicles

The possibility of establishing a local taxing district dedicated to the ferry was also discussed. The problem is that it’s difficult to balance. Limit the size of the district to those who care about the ferry the most, and the tax burden for each becomes so high that voters would never approve it. But draw the district too wide, and you end up including thousands of people who have never ridden on — or maybe even heard of — the Canby ferry, and who wouldn’t support a tax for it even it’s only 10 or 12 bucks a year.

There may be a happy medium somewhere between those two extremes, but it will take time and research to find it.

One thing the county is likely to pursue would be a $400,000 federal grant that would allow for telecommunications to be installed at the Canby Ferry site. This would allow, among other things, for the Ferry to begin accepting credit and debit cards, which would make these transactions more secure and also broaden the ferry’s potential customer base. I mean, who even carries cash in 2019, right?

One change that could be controversial, at least here in Canby, is that the county would seek financial help from cities, and the one the Ferry’s named after will be a prime target. Bezner said that a letter Canby sent the county seemed to leave open the possibility of a cash contribution. But the amount of the ask may raise some eyebrows.

Here’s Bezner discussing the matter with Commissioner Ken Humberston.

Though most councilors have, in previous meetings, expressed support for the ferry in the event that a financially viable way forward can be found, most had seemed reluctant to commit Canby tax dollars to something that serves so few residents. Certainly, $100,000 — if that is the amount the county ends up requesting — would represent a sizable portion of the city’s road budget.

Staff was directed to implement their best takes on the various cost-reducing and revenue-raising strategies for the next six months, then come back before the board for an update.

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