USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Site Notification

Site Notification

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

NCFO Website (Methods Page)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Graphic Version

Statement of Methodology.


Prepared by
Office of Survey Programs
Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Office or the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

August 11, 2015


The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Cent, (TEA21)(PL 105-178) section 1207(c ), directed the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study of ferry transportation in the United States and its possessions In 2000, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Intermodal and Statewide Planning conducted a survey of approximately 250 ferry operators to identify (1) existing ferry operations, including the location and routes served. (2) source and amount. if any of funds derived from Federal. State. or Local governments supporting ferry construction or operation (3) potential domestic ferry routes in the United States and its possessions and to develop information on those routes. and (4) potential for use of high speed ferry services and alternative-fueled ferry services. The Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) Public Law 109-59. Section 1801(a) required that the Secretary, acting through the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). establish and maintain (biennially) a national ferry database containing current information regarding routes, vessels. passengers and vehicles carried funding sources and such other information as the Secretary considers useful. In 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was enacted, reestablishing the mandate that BTS maintain the ferry database.

Although ferries have a long history of moving passengers and freight in America, less is known about this mode of transportation than any of the other modes. Regularly surveyed, routine statistics like the number of ferry cperators and the number of passengers carried were undocumented prior to the establishment of the National Census of Ferry Operators, (NCFO) Part of this knowledge gap was due to the industries structure. State and local public transportation agencies operate some ferry systems, but others are privately owned and operated. Another complication is that many operators provide ferry services as well as dinner and sightseeing cruises, whale watching and other types of excursions. As such it is often difficult to separate these activities.

The original data collection in 2000 was conducted because this existing data sources on ferry operations lacked some of the critical information needed for a national ferry database. To obtain the missing data, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) contracted to survey all known operators. The survey was conducted by the Volpe National Transportation Center, a branch of the U.S. Department or Transportation (DOT) Once the information was verified, it was assembled into a National Ferry Database. Subsequent data collections have been conducted by BTS. At each step, BTS has made revisions to the census questionnaire to improve the nature of the data collec ted, maximize the usefulness of the NCFO database. and adhere to the mandates outlined in MAP-21. The NCFO database has been an important source of information for various industry agencies It has also been a key source of information used in the development of Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database, also produced by BTS. The NCFO data is also used to inform the Secretary for the allocation of funds for FHWA's ferry grant Program

Population of Interest

The NCFO is a census of all known ferry boat operations within the United Stales and its territories, encompassing the 50 Slates, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Cornmonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In addition to ferry operations providing domestic service within the U.S. and its territories. operations providing to or from at least one U.S. terminal are also included. Ferry operators are included within the scope of the NCFO are those providing itinerant, fixed route, common carrier passenger and/or vehicle ferry service. Railroad car float operations are also included within the scope of the NCFO. Ferry operations that are exclusively non-itinerant such as excursion services (e.g. whale watchers, casino boats, day cruises, dinner cruises etc.) passenger only water taxi services not operating at a fixed route. LoLo (Lift on/Lift-off) freight/auto carrier service or long distance passenger only cruise ship services are not included within the scope or the census. Efforts to enumerate ferry operations within the U S. for the 2010 census resulted in a frame of 243 active ferry operations for the calendar year 2009. In 2014 at total of 202 operators were identified in the final enumeration for calendar year 2013. The drop from 2009 to 2013 was due primarily to the way in which they were defined and contacted. Many of the operators for 2009 were included under "umbrella" operators (e.g . State DOTs).