Water taxi plan is picking up steam

Three areas along the San Francisco waterfront are already capable of hosting water taxis that could ferry passengers between AT&T Park and Fisherman’s Wharf as early as next year.

The idea for a multivehicle system that would be able to carry 49 people at a time and depart at 15- to 30-minute intervals has been studied as a transit option for commuters and tourists.

An independent feasibility report did not cite specific passenger costs for the service, but stipulated that fares must be competitive with Muni’s F-line, the historical streetcar route that runs along The Embarcadero and costs passengers $2 per ride. Other water taxi services across the country range in price from a $20 all-day fare in New York to a $1 ticket for portions along the Long Beach waterfront in Southern California.

China Basin, the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf are the three areas along the San Francisco waterfront already capable of hosting water taxis, and the service could be expanded further if the Port makes infrastructure investments.

Potential sites include Fort Mason and the Exploratorium, which is slated to open along the waterfront in 2012 at piers 15 and 17. An estimated 850,000 people a year are expected to visit the science and learning institution, although water taxi service would not be available there until 2015.

Private operators interested in running the service would need to invest $900,000 for the construction of three vessels, or $1.8 million for six vessels, the report stated. Other than buying the ships, startup costs for the project would be fairly low because the waterfront already offers basic infrastructure for taxi service, although some accommodations would be necessary, said Peter Dailey, the Port’s maritime deputy director.

Dailey said the Port would issue a request for a proposal to interested companies in February, and that it is possible service could be in place by the end of 2010.

“Depending on the circumstances, we think operators could make some money with this,” Dailey said. “We’re going to put our feelers out there, but we feel like there is enough demand for this kind of service.”

Unlike regular cab companies, San Francisco water taxis would not be an on-call service. If six water taxis were active, passengers could travel — at 12 to 16 knots — on the waterfront every 15 minutes, according to the report. A trip from the Ferry Building to the Exploratorium on Piers 15 and 17 would take about seven minutes.

The report is scheduled to be discussed at the Port Commission meeting Tuesday.

Water taxi stops

Probable locations for where the water taxis will pick up and drop off passengers:

Currently suitable sites:
n South Beach-China Basin
n Ferry Building
n Pier 39 (Fisherman’s Wharf)

Other potential sites:
n Fort Mason
n Exploratorium at Piers 15 and 17
n Seawall Lot 337

Source: Port of San Francisco

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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