Who Rides The Ferry Across Lake Michigan, And Why?

May 24, 2019

Bay View resident Stacy Dent often drives over the Hoan Bridge, looks down at the Lake Express ferry, and wonders... who rides that?

"I’m very curious who these people are," she says. "Are they going for the day? Or are they moving? Or do they work across the lake?"

So, Stacy reached out to Bubbler Talk — our series that answers your questions about Milwaukee and the region.

If you aren't familiar with the Lake Express, it's a high speed ferry that travels between Milwaukee, Wis. and Muskegon, Mich. A one way trip takes about 2.5 hours. The ticket price is more in line with that of a flight than a bus. Prices fluctuate, right now a one way ticket costs about $215 for a person with a car.

Cars boarding the Lake Express.
Credit Mitch Teich

Lake Express' Aaron Schultz, who has been with the company since it's very first trip almost 15 years ago, says Milwaukeeans make up a lot of the riders. "But also from places you wouldn’t expect," he says. People from 40 or so different countries — places like Brazil, Belguim, China — ride the ferry every year.

LISTEN: The History Of The Lake Express — The Company, The Ship, And The Founder

Griffin Wright with his grandma. She rode the ferry to attend his college graduation.
Credit Courtesy of Griffin Wright

Some of these people are commuting for business, others ride it once because it's on their bucket list. Mostly, people take it for the experience and for the outright convenience. Like Griffin Wright, a recent graduate of Marquette University.

He says he’s taken the ferry since he was a kid to visit his grandma in West Michigan. "When I got older, I would, from college, go visit her and she’s come by the ferry to visit me too just because it's so effortless."

Wright's college buddy Sam Anderson says he’s also taken the ferry: "The first time I took the ferry was on a family vacation to Petoskey, Michigan." But when Anderson tries to recall his childhood memory, it turns out he’s referencing the SS Badger — the other ferry that crosses Lake Michigan.

Passengers waiting to board the S.S. Badger.
Credit Angelina Mosher Salazar

The S.S. Badger has been around since 1953, and shuttles people between Manitowoc, Wis. and Ludington, Mich. That coal-powered trip takes about four hours, and is the last of its kind.

LISTEN: On Lake Michigan, A Cleaner Coal-Powered Ship Ferries On

It turns out that both ferries take passengers on foot, and car; families, and solo travelers. There is one type of passenger that the Badger is more likely to get than the Lake Express: People who drive big trucks for a living. That's because the Badger is bigger and can accommodate trucks. 

So, if you find yourself taking a trip to Michigan and don't feel like driving around the lake.. maybe a ferry ride is in your future.

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