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December 29, 2005

Cape May--Lewes Ferry study released

The Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) Commission has released a Cape May--Lewes Ferry (CMLF) market study report.

The study, by the Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) of Seattle, was commissioned in May 2004 after five years of steady decline in vehicle and passenger traffic on the 17 mile, 80 minute service between Cape May, N.J. and Lewes, Del.

"After 40 years of service to the twin capes region, the CMLF must adapt to meet a changing environment," said James T. Johnson, Jr., Executive Director of the DRBA, announcing the results of the study.

"The detailed report contains more than twenty recommendations in a number of areas, including pricing, promotion, food service, IT, and schedule operations," he said. "We are carefully reviewing the costs and benefits of each proposal. The report and analysis will provide management with the foundation to implement new initiatives, which will focus on increasing revenues while managing costs."

Some of the report's recommendations, including a new fare category for passengers age 6-13 and a review and replacement schedule for the CMLF directional signage, were implemented for the 2005 summer season. The report also contained a number of marketing and advertising proposals that were incorporated into the ferry's past summer promotional campaign.

As part of the research project, the Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) completed two on-board survey samples, performed visitor/resident one-on-one interviews in Cape May, New Jersey and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; and conducted a telephone sampling to provide an accurate picture of the CMLF user and non-user.

The consultant tabulated and analyzed nearly 6,000 surveys and questionnaires. In addition, EBDG gathered regional data on tourism, demographics, travel patterns, and income levels.

Based on the research, analysis, and industry best practices, the EBDG report provides recommendations to foster passenger growth that include:

Develop Master Plan for the Cape May--Lewes Ferry

Increase tourism partnerships and explore the opportunity for overnight packages

Improve the food quality on-board the vessels, offering variety and value

Enhance customer service and tourism training for front-line staff

Replace the ferry's ticketing and management information system to improve customer experience and provide real time performance data for management

Adjust fare structure to attract larger travel parties and to improve utilization midweek and during the off-peak season

Implement round-trip vehicle pricing program.

Increased focus on advertising and marketing efforts.

Develop a customer advisory group, combined with independent surveys, to identify opportunities for service improvements and to test strategies for new products or promotions.

The project cost was $250,000. The research team included John Waterhouse, P.E., President of the Elliott Bay Design Group. Dr. Simon Condliffe, economist for the Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research at the University of Delaware; Christopher Wright, Ferry Operations Analyst and President of The Mariport Group (TMG); and Jay Lewis, President of Market Scope, Inc., a market research and strategic planning firm based in Miami.