Hovercraft service proposed for Lake Ontario from Niagara to Toronto

Toronto's skyline is seen from Lake Ontario. A company is trying to launch a commuter hovercraft service across the lake from St. Catharines. Roberto Machado Noa / File / Getty Images

TORONTO – A proposal for a hovercraft service across Lake Ontario made progress in the Niagara Region this week, but may be dead in the water in Toronto.

Beamsville, Ont., resident Bruno Caciagli has been pitching the service that would operate between St. Catharines, Ont., nearby
Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto as a way to help travellers beat traffic. This week, his plan for a daily service across the lake received approval in principle from St. Catharines’ city council.

Caciagli reckons that his maiden voyage could be as soon as nine months from now, but his company, Lake Ontario Express, would needto get approval from Toronto and the federal government, and Toronto’s ports authority has some concerns.

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Ideas for a cross-lake commuter service have been floated for years, but none has ever found success. A fast-ferry service fromToronto to Rochester, N.Y., ran briefly in 2004, but eventually failed due to financial troubles.

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But St. Catharines Coun. Carlos Garcia says that using a hovercraft instead of a traditional boat changes the situation.
“The hovercraft is much more flexible because it can crawl up on land and doesn’t need docking facilities as other vessels do,” said Garcia.

The hovercraft is also able to traverse ice during the winter, and doesn’t create a large wake in the water like larger ferries.

The idea has been met with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism in Toronto’s municipal authorities. PortsToronto said it has no current plans to proceed with the hovercraft service due to noise concerns.

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However, Caciagli says that the hovercraft would only create as much noise as an idling semi truck.
Caciagli says he’ll continue to push forward with the plan despite the roadblock with PortsToronto. He says he’d also consider nearby alternate ports, if need be.

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Toronto Coun. Michael Thompson, on the city’s economic development committee, says he’d consider that level of noise
“reasonable.” Hovercraft or not, he says that getting transport on Lake Ontario is the right idea to relieve congestion and save travel time.

“We don’t use (our waterways) enough,” he said. “If we can take more people off the roadway and get more people into the city
in a safe way and also a way that minimizes the emission of noise into the city, then clearly we’d want to take a look at it.”

But he dismissed the idea of it operating by next June.

“I suspect that it may take a little bit more than a year,” Thompson chuckled.

The hovercrafts also have yet to be built. Kingston, Ont.-based company MetalCraft Marine has been tapped to manufacture the initial two hovercrafts.

Caciagli’s goal is to operate seven round trips a day with a capacity of 40 seats on each hovercraft.

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