Are hovercraft the future of travel between Toronto and Niagara?

Hoverlink Ontario Inc. Photo Courtesy of CNW Group/Hoverlink Ontario Inc.

Tired of the QEW commute? Consider taking a hovercraft.

Starting next summer a new hovercraft service will run between Toronto and Niagara, transporting passengers across Lake Ontario in 30 minutes. That’s a quarter of the time it takes to drive.

Operated by Hoverlink Ontario Inc., the private company is in its final stages of launching after getting the green light from all three tiers of government. The company plans to use Toronto’s Ontario Place and St. Catharines’ Port Weller as its docking facilities. Both locations were chosen due to their proximity to tourist and sporting attractions, such as Niagara Falls and BMO Field, as well as connecting to other transportation infrastructure, such as the GO Train and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Hoverlink Ontario Inc.
Photo Courtesy of Hoverlink Ontario Inc.

In a recent announcement, the company said it will be operating two hovercrafts, the Griffon BHT-130 and BHT-150, with the intention of making 48 lake crossings per day, 365 days per year. Each hovercraft can hold 180 people in its cabin, meaning the company could transport up to three million people per year.

Beyond cutting commute times (around two hours by car or train) the service is expected to take thousands of cars off of the QEW, the company said, alleviating traffic and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The hovercrafts are powered by an extremely low-emission tier 3 engine that uses a diesel exhaust system to reduce 98 per cent of airborne toxins created by the engine. Yet it still manages to propel the hovercrafts at 80 to 100 km/h.

The hovercrafts use blowers to produce a large volume of air below the hull, raising it 1.8 metres above the surface. A rubberized skirt around the outside of the hovercraft helps to maintain the lift by applying slight pressure to the surface, approximately 1/16th of a human footstep. This allows the hovercraft to glide over land, water, and ice.

Unlike past ferry services that attempted the cross-lake commute, the hovercrafts can operate all year round and leave almost no wake, avoiding damage to shorelines. When in use, the hovercrafts produce 60 decibels of noise, similar to the level of a dishwasher, so the vehicle won’t disturb marine life below the surface or irritate any Lake Ontario neighbours, the company said.

Currently, there are no transportation services operating on Lake Ontario. The last ferry service, connecting Toronto to Rochester, N.Y., ended in 2006 due to financial issues.

This new service will be the first commercial use of hovercrafts in North America. The U.S. military, Royal Marines, and the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards are the only other entities on the continent to use the vehicles.

Hoverlink Ontario Inc.
Photo Courtesy of CNW Group/Hoverlink Ontario Inc.

Hoverlink’s goal is to make the hovercrafts a viable option for commuters, so it’s aiming to keep ticket prices comparable to other Toronto-to-Niagara transit options. An official ticket price has yet to be released, but the company estimates it will cost $50 to $60 roundtrip. In comparison, a roundtrip bus or train ticket costs around $40.

Commuters will also be able to bring their bikes, kayaks, and strollers on board, but will have to leave their cars in the port’s parking lot.

“Hoverlink’s hovercraft service will unite families to sporting events, theatre, concerts, adult gaming, and one of the natural wonders of the world in 30 minutes,” said Argonauts general manager and Hoverlink board member Michael “Pinball” Clemons, in the announcement. “Hoverlink is changing the game.”

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