Port Commission floats water taxi idea once again |

Port Commission floats water taxi idea once again

In theory, water taxis should be as popular in Pittsburgh as I’ve heard the successful chain of Smiling Anwar’s camel rental outlets are in the sands of the Sahara.

Although it certainly hasn’t turned out that way in the past, the Port of Pittsburgh Commission wants to float the idea once again. The agency has applied for a $3 million federal grant to initiate a local water taxi service.

“We think it definitely can be a viable option for commuters,” said J.D. Fogarty, the Port Commission’s director of development.

The Port Commission concerns itself solely with area waterways and is not to be confused with the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which concerns itself solely with buses and light rail transit. Except for when the authority teams up with the Port Commission to study the feasibility of a local water taxi service, which it happened to do back in 2001.

The report concluded that a market likely indeed exists for water taxis, which have proven popular in cities such as Baltimore. And indeed, a certain logic still exists for drawing such a conclusion.

We have lots of rivers (three). We have numerous riverfront attractions (a convention center, two stadiums, Station Square, the Strip District Boardwalk, Point State Park, the Waterfront, various homeless encampments, etc.) and people who frequently patronize them.

But the study’s findings seemed to be swimming strongly upstream from reality. It was released around the same time a company called Waterways Inc. launched a commuter water taxi service between Millvale and Downtown.

The Flying Dutchman had more living passengers. Two months after it began, the taxi service financially capsized.

For good reason, Fogarty contends. “Once you get to Millvale, you’ve already beaten most of the traffic into town. There was no incentive to get off the expressway and take the boat,” he said.

The port service would travel between the convention center and the Waterfront in Homestead, providing a potential shortcut between Downtown and the eastern suburbs and the Mon Valley. Port officials believe it will work, and if the federal money comes through they will give it a try.

But they have to realize that this concept failed once before and could easily sink again. If it does, a $3 million investment will lie wet and wasted at the bottom of the river.

That’s a possibility the port people have to be dredging.

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