The NCFO is a census of all known ferry boat operations running within and to the United States and its territories, encompassing the 50 States, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition to the ferry operations providing domestic service within the United States and to its territories, operations providing service to and from the United States are also included. The scope of ferry operations included in the NCFO comprises those operators providing itinerant, fixed route, common carrier passenger and/or vehicle ferry service as well as railroad car float operations.
Operations that were exclusively non-itinerant, such as excursion services (e.g., whale watches, casino boats, day cruises, dinner cruises, etc.), passenger-only water taxi services not operating on a fixed route, and LoLo (Lift-on/Lift-off) freight/auto carrier series were out of scope for the NCFO.
Of the 237 known ferry operations that were sent a census questionnaire, 6 were determined to be out of scope (i.e., they were determined either to be ineligible or were no longer in operation), while 7 other operations were determined to already have had their operations reported within their state transportation agency’s or their parent company’s report (e.g., some ferry companies operate more
than one ferry service and report within a single census). To avoid double counting, those 7 were removed from the frame, leaving a total of 224 in-service ferry operations for the 2018 Census.
All 224 in-service ferry operations were encouraged to participate in the 2018 NCFO by an advance letter and follow-up email sent by BTS in July 2018. The letter and email provided unique log-in credentials for each ferry operation to respond online. Non-respondents were contacted by phone and email from August through November 2018 to further encourage participation and to offer questionnaire assistance. Non-respondents received up to three non-response phone calls and two emails over this time-period. Data collection was completed in December 2018.
The 2018 NCFO received responses from 192 of the 224 in-service ferry operations. Of the 192 responses, 181 (80.8 percent) were complete, and only the data from these 181 respondents to the 2018 NCFO are presented in this report. The analysis provided herein uses only reported numbers; missing information or responses designated as business-sensitive were not imputed or used to estimate totals.
Geographically, the 181 ferry operations represented 174 operations across 38 states, 6 operations across 3 U.S. territories, and 1 operation between a U.S. and non-U.S. location.
The vessel characteristics of the reported vessels were obtained from the U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Vessels of the United States data. This data adds 11 variables to the dataset specific to vessel size, weight, and propulsion.
Several operators either did not provide passenger and/or vehicle boarding data or asked that the data they provided not be made public. Similar to the 2016 NCFO, passenger and vehicle boarding estimates were not imputed in the 2018 NCFO. Thus, due to eligible operators who did not respond, as well as those choosing not to provide or make information public for select items, the numbers in this report likely underestimate the true total values. These underestimates would include vessel, terminal, segment and route-miles counts, and—especially—total passenger and vehicle boardings in calendar year 2017.
From one NCFO census year to the next, there are changes to the data collection due to new information needs and updated data collection requirements. In the 2018 NCFO, the operational trip purpose question was added to answer the question of why people travel by ferry in the United States. Another change to the 2018 questionnaire was adding an emerging fuel type, liquefied natural gas (LNG), to the list of vessel fuel type response options.
Over the years, the NCFO’s frame of operators and response rate has grown, resulting in better and more data each year; however, due to an inconsistent responding population, care must be taken in comparing NCFO statistics from one census year to the next. Of the respondents that completed the 2016 and 2018 NCFOs, 148 ferry operators responded in both years. However, 17 operators responded to the 2016 NCFO but not to the 2018 NCFO, while 21 operators responded to the 2018 NCFO but not to the 2016 NCFO. Fifteen ferry operators responded to the NCFO for the first time in 2018.