Last year I wrote an article about the Lake Express .. I figured I should update the math for 2009.
To reiterate .. I like both the Lake Express and SS Badger Ferry, they fill different needs. The SS Badger is an interesting, perhaps romantic voyage. The Lake Express is .. utilitarian, but takes half the time. (four+ versus two+ hours.)
However .. the economics of driving versus taking one of these ferries gets worse every year, the Lake Express especially, as it doesn't add much value beyond basic transportation. The voyage on the SS Badger is far more interesting, as you can discover many areas of the ship.
I did a little research, and back in 2004, two adults, plus a car, round trip, cost $288 on the Lake Express. That was somewhat reasonable. By 2007, that had jumped to $401.
Now in 2009, one adult round trip is $128, and a car is $165. And they charge you a $5 fee per ticket per crossing for fuel surcharge, plus another $5 for port fees, which amounts to a whopping $60 in fees for two people and a car. Grand total?
$481. That's an eye opener. (The total becomes insane if you have children over 5+, which adds another $78 per kid. A family of four with a car is $637.)
So what does the Lake Express save you?
The crossing takes about 2.5 hours, plus the half hour you need to wait before boarding .. so the journey is 3 hours, round trip is 6 hours. Driving Milwaukee to Muskegon and back is 550 miles. With zero traffic it would take 9 hours, but with Chicago traffic, perhaps 11. -- So taking the ferry saves you between 3-5 hours.
Now, yes, Chicago traffic can add more than just two hours/RT. The truth is, sometimes it does, others it does not. It all depends on when you go through the dreaded city. Plan your trip at the right time, and you can sail through Chicago. -- Besides, if you take the ferry, you are forced into a certain schedule as well.
Driving costs gas, $2.50 gallon/25 mpg = $55 in gas. So $481 for the ferry, less $55 gas = $426 to save 3-5 hours of driving, and the bonus of a leisurely trip across Lake Michigan. So if you value your time between $85-142/hour, you're all set.
The math is similar for the SS Badger, although they are cheaper and don't stick you with $60 in fees. Round Trip for 2 & car on the SS Badger is $396.
I made the comment last year, and it goes double this year: I have no idea how the Lake Express stays in business. I really love the idea of taking a ferry for a journey, but it's a lot of cash to demand for crossing Lake Michigan, and in a recession, dropping almost $500 is something not many folks would do. Where they get enough customers who can afford that extravagance, I know not.
Suddenly, fighting Chicago traffic doesn't look so bad.