“Beffen” – Ferry across Vågen, the Bergen harbour
INCREASED INDUSTRY AND TRADE lead to a growing population in Bergen from the 1850s. In 1894, Engineer Jacob Trumpy saw the need for a ferry link across Vågen, the Bergen harbour. Inspired by the idea of an electric ferry during his stay in Westfalen, Germany, he introduced the idea of an electric ferry to the Bergen government.
On March 5, 1894 an ad in Bergens Tidende invited people to buy shares in the new ferry company. By the end of the first week 3.120 shares of NOK 25,- were sold. Later it became clear that without the support of wealthy business people from Bergen, the project would not have been possible.
May 15, 1894, A/S Bergens Elektriske Færgeselskab (The Bergen Electric Ferry Company Limited) was founded in Bergen as the very first of its kind in Norway. The first board of directors consisted of Mr. Claus Daae Olsen (Chairman), Mr. Johan Jacob Rieber and Mr. Harald Albert Olsen.
Despite some resistance from politicians claiming a ferry company would take the livelihood from many ferry men, two ferries started operation in August the same year, each capable of carrying 16 passengers. Later that year an additional six ferries were employed on different routes in the harbour. The ferries were not given names, simply numbers, “BEF 1”, “BEF 2” etc. In 1894, 1.600 passengers daily travelled across on the new ferries. This was 100 passengers below the budget, but the company still made a profit of NOK 2.600,- . Each ferry cost NOK 4.500,- and the ticket prices were set to 2 øre for children and 5 øre for adults. Employees of the Bergen Port Authority travelled for free and still do so today.
The main dimensions were 8 meter length, 2 meters width and 0,8 meters draft. After only 10 hours of operations, the ferry batteries had to be recharged. The recharging station was at Nøstet, but later a new recharging station was built at Bradbenken in Vågen and the charging, taking only 4 minutes, was done between each trip.
The expansion plans required additional capital, and a second share issue of 270 shares of NOK 100,- each was completed in February of 1896. The profit for the first 12 months of operation was NOK 8.394,11 and NOK 2,- per share in dividend paid to the shareholders. A total of 486.000 passengers gave an average of 40.500 passengers per month.
The ferries were open in the front and in the aft with only a canvas roof. This gave the passengers little protection against the harsh Bergen weather, so in the 1920s all the ferries were rebuilt. In 1926 the first gasoline engine was installed and only 4 years later, all the ferries were gasoline powered.
During World War 2, only 3 ferries were in operation, but all were damaged. One new vessel, also called “BEF 1” was put in operation in 1945. Another “BEF 2” was delivered in 1948.
With the rebuilding of industrial and residential buildings on both sides if the Bergen harbour during the late 1940s and 1950s, another two ferries were built. During this time, all the ferries were retrofitted with diesel engines from the Sabb engine factory in Bergen.
The Ferry company took over the management of the Uren-Møhlenpris ferries in 1950 and ran this route until 1957. In 1955 there was a large fire at Bryggen and the ferry company’s offices was ruined. April 1956, “BEF 4” was launched powered by the company’s first Brødrene Klemsdal diesel engine.
The number of passengers grew steadily during the 1950s despite the fact that the ferry company changed some of the routes.
In 1959 a new route from Bergen city to Gamle Bergen (a collection of old Bergen houses located in Sandviken) was established. Due to very low load-factor on the Gamle Bergen route, this operation was discontinued the following year. Yet another route was planned from downtown Bergen to the Bergen Aquarium.
At the time of the ferry company’s 75th anniversary August 23, 1969, 38 million passengers had been transported across since the start. However, the future did not look bright. The number of passengers decreased rapidly from 403.000 in 1965 to only 220.000 in 1971. From 1973, the Bergen municipality has subsidized the operation.
January 2, 1978 “BEF 2” and “BEF 4” were replaced by a new ferry named “BEF 2”. This was the twelfth ferry in the company and now the only ferry in operation. The new ferry was different in many ways with a higher freeboard, superstructure in aluminium and painted orange. Structural improvements showed signs of increased concern for the safety of the passengers in a more and more busy Bergen harbour. She was built by Lars Hausberg at Sotra outside Bergen at a cost of NOK 168.444,-.
The ferry company decided to lease out the ferry as well as the license to Arnold Hjort & Co in 1982. Six years later, the ferry was sold to Hjort and later to Holmedal.
Every day, except Saturday and Sunday, “Beffen” goes across the harbour on its 7 minute voyage about 50 times per day. We estimate that about 80.000 passengers use the ferry every year. The ticket price is now NOK 20,- for adults and 10,- for children and retired people. In the summer months, the ferry operates a reduced schedule on Saturdays.
Despite the sale of the ferry in 1988, the old ferry company A/S Bergens Elekstriske Færgeselskab is still intact. The board’s main objective is to support the owner and operators of the ferry and and continue to build in the 100 years maritime history the company has. There are about 180 shareholders today, with Mr. Frederik W. Mowinckel chairing the board and holding a controlling interest.