Implementing transit services (water taxi) before the market will support them
It's reported ("The Wharf to bring new daily D.C. water taxi," Washington Business Journal) that with the opening of the first phase of the redevelopment of DC's Southwest Waterfront there will be the concomitant introduction-expansion of water taxi services. From the article:
The Wharf will [...] bring D.C. and its surrounding areas daily water taxi routes when it opens in October 2017.Of course, I am fine with adding a water taxi to the mix of transit services in the area, I just don't think the market and spatial conditions are there to support such a service as "a transit service" ("Water taxis/ferries in the DC region," 2011).
Entertainment Cruises, which earlier this year acquired Potomac Riverboat Company, will launch daily water taxi routes late next year that will make stops in National Harbor, Alexandria, Georgetown, The Wharf and Nationals Park, Wharf developer Hoffman-Madison Waterfront and the cruise company announced Wednesday.
Potomac Riverboat Company already runs regular water taxis between Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor, as well as seasonal boats to the National Mall and Nationals Park, but the partnership between PRC’s new parent company and The Wharf will introduce daily, regularly scheduled water taxi routes connecting D.C., Maryland and Virginia for what officials believe is the first time.
Entertainment Cruises CEO Kenneth Svendsen anticipates that the boats will stop at each location 10 times daily during the high season, which will run from March through December. During the other two months, there will still be approximately six or seven boats per day from each stop.
Maybe a tourist oriented service could work, with "fares" to match, as opposed to prices more in line with typical passenger ferry/water taxi transit services.
By comparison, Baltimore's water taxi service focuses on moving people along the Inner Harbor waterfront, from point to point, and across "to the other side.' They charge $8 for a single ride or $14 for a day pass. Still, the bulk of the riders are tourists.
A number of cities have successful ferry services including San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Boston, and other cities, such as Oklahoma City and San Antonio have tourist-focused water taxi services on centrally located rivers.
Buffalo has a summer "bike + pedestrian" water taxi (Queen City Water Taxi) and this summer the Thames River Heritage Area provided water taxi service between key destinations in New London and Groton, Connecticut ("Water taxi to start offering special river tours," "Best summer deal: Thames River Water Taxi season pass," and "Heritage park, water taxi mark end of first season," The Day). These services are simple, more akin to the boats on the San Antonio Riverwalk.
a water taxi service on the Chicago River (boat at the Madison Dock pictured at right) that is a kind of hybrid transit-tourist service that is priced comparable to a distance-based subway fare.
The City of New York fosters ferry service because it is the only transit service they can run-because all of the other transit services in the city are run by the State of New York or other entities.
-- Citywide Ferry Service, New York City Economic Development Corporation
In the DC area, by either land or water the distances between Alexandria, Georgetown, and The Wharf are significant, and the piers are far from the kinds of office agglomerations that could support transit.
It reminds me a bit of the extension of the Green Line light rail in Sacramento. It was created to serve a developing district called Township 9, with plans to eventually extend service to the airport.
The developer with their own money built an awesome station. But then the recession hit in 2008 and while they still own the property, it isn't being developed and fewer than 500 people ride the extension daily.
To save money the transit agency plans to shut the service next year ("Light-rail Green Line may shut in Sacramento to save money," Sacramento Bee).
The developer challenged the decision, but the reality is that having transit services run "in advance" of demand is financially imprudent. (A local example is the DC Circulator Navy Yard bus service. The area has a Metro Station of its own, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of demand to go between the Navy Yard District, Eastern Market, and Union Station, although as the Wall Street Journal notes, the area is attracting a great number of new residents and multiunit residential projects continue apace.)
I could see supporting ("subsidizing") water taxi service in DC from the tourist tax revenue stream (hotel occupancy taxes, restaurant tax, etc.), but not as a transit service, as cool as the idea is.
Yet, were the Potomac River was located within the city center, the way it is in Chicago, it would be a much different story.
Whether or not this particular service succeeds, it will be interesting to see the changes that will come from the revival of the Southwest Waterfront district and how they can support access to the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and the waterfront.
DC is a kind of river city but with limited awareness of the water.