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June 25, 2018   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Beat the Traffic Gridlock with a Ferry

119 million Americans took a ride on a ferry last year and there’s a 95.4 percent chance that this ride was powered by diesel.

With urban congestion at an all-time high, more Americans are finding innovative ways to get to work and get around town and sometimes that involves a very large boat. From New York City to San Francisco to Nantucket and Catalina, 119 million Americans took a ride on a ferry last year and there’s a 95.4 percent chance that it was powered by an efficient, powerful and reliable diesel engine.

According to recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, over 600 ferry boats operating in 36 states took 119 million passengers for a ride in 2016, the last full year for which there is complete data.  Diesel technology powers over 95 percent of these ferries.

Technology Options for 617 Ferry Boats Operating in the U.S.

Ferry Data

Thanks to decades of innovation, the latest near-zero emissions technology is now available in the very largest (5,000-10,000 hp) diesel marine engines that are the technology of choice for ferries..These technologies reduce emissions by almost 90 percent relative to older engines. While technologies are ready and able today to yield near-zero emissions, getting them incorporated into ferries is a heavy lift.

The average ferryboat in the U.S. was manufactured 31 years ago, before emission controls were even required of these ferries. Recent research commissioned by the Diesel Technology Forum and the Environmental Defense Fund finds that large marine engines, including those that power ferries, last almost 50 years. In fact, the oldest ferry boat in operation, the Adirondack in service in Vermont, is still in service after it hit Vermont waters in 1913!

Repowering these older ferries with the latest near-zero emissions clean diesel engines can reduce roughly the same emissions as replacing just over 90 older heavy-duty trucks with new technologies. Clean diesel engines that power ferries can have an enormous beneficial impact on the communities where they serve and help reduce emissions for passengers. Replacing older engines that power a single ferry with a new clean diesel model works out to the same emission reductions as replacing almost 100 older trucks, according to new research commissioned by the Diesel Technology Forum and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Across the U.S., urban populations are expanding and often ferries are an innovative option for transit districts. This is certainly true of the Bay Area in northern California that has seen ferry ridership expand 25 percent in just two year sparking demand for newly manufactured vessels. Newly manufactured ferries are also entering service in New York City linking outer boroughs and other suburban locations with lower Manhattan. These new ferries are powered by the latest clean diesel engines that meet U.S. EPA’s near-zero emission “Tier 4” standards.

While diesel technology is the dominant choice for ferry operators, there are other powertrains in use in U.S. waters. The Badger, in operation between Michigan and Wisconsin, is actually powered by coal, while Hatton Ferry Service in Virginia, operates the only manually powered car ferry in the U.S.


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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy

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