Arend Brandligt, Laura de Jong and their children Boaz and Juna on the ferry between Breukelen and Nieuwer Ter Aa, which must disappear from Rijkswaterstaat.Statue Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

    Just before 8 am, Arend Brandligt (47) and Laura de Jong (42) get on their bikes. Their two children, each on their own copy, already turn the corner. Son Boaz (9) and daughter Juna (7) thunder out of the village, over the highway, under the railway.

    And yes, there it is already, the ferry that takes them to the other side of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal every day. Still. They push their bicycles on board and look for a place. Then the skipper releases the ropes and starts the crossing, a journey of 100 meters as the crow flies.

    On some days, Brandligt is on this ferry six times a day. Back and forth when he takes the children to primary school in Loenen, when he picks them up again and then again for sports training or a play date.

    The ferry is crucial for the approximately 750 inhabitants of Nieuwer Ter Aa, he wants to say. Because the village has few facilities. And that is why they are taking action, as can be seen from the banner across the canal. “Keep the ferry,” it says.

    lifeline

    Last autumn, the residents of Nieuwer Ter Aa heard for the first time that Rijkswaterstaat wants to get rid of the ferry. Safety would be at stake, now that the canal is increasingly crowded with larger ships. They were furious. An action committee was set up and a petition, which they will present to the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The document has been signed more than 6,000 times.

    The municipality of Stichtse Vecht, the province of Utrecht and the water board Amstel, Gooi en Vecht also want to keep the ferry or a bicycle bridge over the canal. ‘It is a lifeline’, says alderman Frank van Liempdt. ‘Hundreds of people use that connection to go to school, go shopping or play sports. Cycling around is out of the question.’

    Deputy Arne Schaddelee of the province of Utrecht points out through a spokesperson that the ferry is part of cycling and walking networks. Schaddelee fears that the ‘large detour distances’ will drive people from bicycles to cars. He calls this issue ‘unfortunately exemplary of the way in which the government sometimes deals with regional bicycle connections’.

    bone fractures

    Rijkswaterstaat is meanwhile waving a number of investigations, including a quick scan from research agency Marin. This states that the skipper does not always have a good view, that the maneuvering space in front of the ferry is limited and that passing shipping does not always adhere to the maximum speed.

    The risk of collisions is therefore high, the researchers conclude. Since 1996, the ferry has collided once with a recreational vessel and twice with an inland vessel. In 2010 a skipper was killed.

    Marin also noted that the ferry often makes violent movements due to passing shipping, which could cause passengers to fall. In the year prior to the investigation, this had resulted in ‘at least one accident resulting in serious fractures’.

    Alderman Van Liempdt believes that the risks are greatly exaggerated. ‘When we talk to skippers and users, we get a completely different picture,’ he says. “They see the ferry as safe.” Arend Brandligt is also not impressed by the research, which he says is ‘full of assumptions’. He has never seen passengers fall over, he says.

    Nevertheless, Minister Mark Harbers (Infrastructure and Water Management) plans to take the ferry out of service by 31 December 2022 at the latest, he recently wrote to the House of Representatives. Harbers is expected to make a final decision shortly after the summer. Until then, there are still discussions between all those involved.

    ‘Just be honest’, says frequent ferry user Arend Brandligt, at the back of the photo. “Just say you think the ferry is too expensive.”Statue Marcel van den Bergh

    Ancient covenant

    Meanwhile, the residents of Nieuwer Ter Aa point to a ancient covenant, drawn during the construction of the canal. In 1888, the then Breukelerwaard Water Board and the predecessor of Rijkswaterstaat agreed that a spring would be built where the new canal cut through an existing road.

    The operation of the ferry, the agreement stated, ‘is at all times (sic), day and night, free of charge by the State’. According to the residents, this means that there must be a river crossing forever.

    Rijkswaterstaat and the minister see it differently. They state that ‘passengers can use the cross-river connection free of charge as long as it is available’. In other words: if there is no longer a ferry, the government does not have to guarantee a free crossing.

    ‘That makes me really angry,’ says Brandligt. “The minister is twisting words to his advantage. Just be honest. Just say you think that ferry is too expensive.’

    Rotten

    On the way back from school, Brandligt shows them the detour they should take if the ferry were to disappear. First 2 kilometers to the north, then over the bridge and again 4 kilometers south along the canal.

    It makes the route to primary school a total of 2.5 kilometers longer. And when Boaz and Juna go to secondary school in Breukelen, that will also make a difference. To other destinations, the difference can be more than 5 kilometers.

    But that’s not all, says Brandligt. He also thinks this is an unsafe cycling route. There is hardly any street lighting and sometimes cars speed by at a fast pace. A few years ago, a woman was kidnapped and raped on the dike along the canal.

    ‘If the ferry disappears’, says Brandligt, ‘the question is whether we will continue to live here.’

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