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We need to build more bridges

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One ferry company has controlled the byways between Plattsburgh, New York and Grand Isle, Vermont for probably 100 years. There are other ferry stops, but this particular transit route is the route I take to work everyday and involves driving over a land bridge that then takes you to a ferry stop that’s about three miles long to the New York state side of Lake Champlain.

The New York side would love a bridge, the Vermont side would prefer to keep things status quo. Thus enters our ferry company. The ferry company has a monopoly on bringing cars over the lake to where they’d need to go. Not just cars, but trucks and pretty much any other vehicle. Some people will park cars on both sides of the border to avoid paying the fee for a vehicle & person. Workarounds aside, it’s just how it’s always been and no one has the estimated $1 billion it’d cost to build a bridge even if there were the political will.

You might be wonder, “what does this have to do with higher ed, Ron?” I’m getting there.

The real problem with the inefficiency of the ferry isn’t that it’s especially slow (it takes about 13 minutes) or punctuality (it’s usually on time during good weather.) The real issue are the barriers to entry put up to make it more difficult for riders to do what they want to do more efficiently without any explanation.

For instance:

  • The company eliminated round trip fares. Just because.
  • They don’t take credit cards. Only cash.
  • If you want to use a “commuter card” you have to pay in $200 increments and complete a print form that you either bring to the ferry company’s downtown office (only open during work hours) or mail it to them with your credit card information.
  • There’s obviously no app for tracking ferry schedules. But this would be borderline innovative to begin with.

All of this sounds like a company that has a monopoly and can do whatever it wants and does. The alternative for people who want to avoid to ferry is to drive 74.8 miles, which takes about as much time as the ferry, but requires a round about trip up towards one of only two bridges connected New York and Vermont.

So onto our real lives now. How many of us can think of situations where we make it harder for our customers, just because we can? Maybe it’s not intentional. Perhaps there are very good internal reasons for policies we enact, but do we think of the fallout of these decisions on the people they impact?

It occurred to me this morning that we all have ferry problems that we can fix in our own offices, organizations and workplaces to make it easier for people. We complain about silos, when the real problem are the bridges we refuse to build.

What are your ferry problems? Let me know on Twitter #ferryprobs