Shuttle provides serene commute Boat: The Harbor Shuttle is the stress-free way that some downtown workers get to the office.

July 12, 1996|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

There is a brave new band of commuters in Baltimore who literally float to work each day.

They might be called the harbor water brigade.

This handful of downtown lawyers, accountants, advertising executives and brokers commute across the harbor's waters on a daily voyage they describe as "relaxing," "invigorating" and "free of traffic hassles." They also say they save a lot of money in downtown parking fees.

They travel on the Harbor Shuttle, a pontoon boat that picks them up each morning at Canton (off Tindeco Wharf along Boston Street) and at a Fells Point dock off Ann Street. For the rest of the day, the shuttle runs tourists from the Harborplace pavilions to Fells Point and Canton.

But come the end of the work day, these regular riders return to the shuttle and bob home in the company of out-of-town visitors.

"We explain the sights to the tourists. We tell them what the Shot Tower is and where Johns Hopkins Hospital is located," said Mark B. Baker, an Alex. Brown employee who lives in Belts Landing at Fells Point.

Baker has calculated the shuttle cost vs. the expense of downtown parking and says the water route is clearly cheaper.

"Baltimore has the fifth-highest parking fees in the U.S. I was formerly paying $110 a month to park downtown. A monthly pass the Harbor Shuttle is $45. It's good all day. I can come home for lunch if I so choose. But I really like floating across the harbor and seeing the scenery," he said.

The riders say the trip is cool and refreshing, so much so they don't worry about mussing their clothes and hair on the way to work.

Indeed, they dress the part.

Some of the male riders don well-tailored suits, crisp shirts and ties, while the female passengers wear fashionable business outfits. They often carry soft-leather business brief cases and sport Swiss Army watches.

Nearly all the 15 to 20 daily riders on the 8 a.m. trip -- so far there is demand for only one morning trip a day that will get water commuters to their desks by 9 a.m. -- live in the condominiums, apartments and townhouse developments that have gone up or been renovated along Southeast Baltimore's waterfront in the past 15 years.

"How can you beat it? Today we saw the Chilean Tall Ship being escorted into the harbor. What a sight," said Dave Fairall, a T. Rowe Price broker who walks about 10 minutes each morning to the Shuttle's Ann Street pickup point from his Foster Avenue home.

Another regular rider chose the shuttle because of the money she saved in parking fees.

"There couldn't be a more stress-free way to get to work. I've lived here all my life and never realized all the landmarks you can see along the harbor. It's pretty neat to come by the Domino Sugar sign every morning," said Jean Supik, a White Marsh resident who is a daily rider.

She is something of an exception for shuttle passengers. She drives along Interstate 95, exits the interstate, hunts for a parking place in Fells Point, then boards the boat. Nearly all the other travelers live in Southeast Baltimore and walk to the pickup spots.

Once the shuttle has deposited its workers at Harborplace, a bit of reverse commuting begins.

"I live downtown, maybe a 15-minute walk gets me to the water. Then I take the shuttle back to Canton to my job. Let's not kid ourselves. If it's really hot, I take the bus to the harbor and then ride the boat. I can't think of a better way to go. It's relaxing," said Alicia Allen, who works for a travel marketing firm in Canton.

"We all learned about it by word-of-mouth or just seeing it in action. One morning I was at the Bagels by the Bay shop in Fells Point and saw it picking up the passengers. That was all I needed. I made a phone call and was on the boat the next morning," said Chris King, an employee of the Campbell Group advertising firm.

For Ronald Morgan, the Harbor Shuttle's owner, the challenges of running a water transport are many.

"I'm satisfied with the numbers so far this year. When the weather gets real bad in the winter, I'm thinking about using a shuttle van to get the riders to work when the harbor freezes," said Morgan.

This past winter, when weather conditions did not permit its operation, a shuttle employee called the monthly pass-holders to tell them the service would not operate.

The riders seem to like their shuttle captain, Steve Austin, who pilots them across the Patapsco each morning. "There are no red lights to stop at on this job," he said one day this week.

Austin recognizes all his regulars and rarely asks to see their monthly passes. "I like to think of this as the modern version of pTC the old bay boats," said Austin. "It's like riding down the river on one of the old steamers."

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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