City To Use U.s. Aid To Expand Water Taxi

July 15, 2009|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,

Using a new grant of federal stimulus money announced Tuesday, Baltimore plans to build a network of water taxis to carry workers year-round among the burgeoning neighborhoods of Canton, Fells Point and Locust Point.

The grant will allow the city to make pier improvements and buy two additional boats, significantly expanding a free, commuter-oriented service that began on a small scale in May. The runs between Fells Point and Tide Point have attracted a regular daily ridership of about 90 in less than three months, said Jamie Kendrick, deputy director of the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

The Canton service is expected to begin in mid-fall, he said. Like the Fells Point run, it will be operated five days a week.

Expanding water taxi service will help control automotive pollution and ease traffic congestion around the Inner Harbor, said Barry Robinson, the city's chief of transit and marine services.

"This is wonderful news for the city," said Mayor Sheila Dixon, who said it demonstrates the "great work" of her staff in securing competitive grants for Baltimore.

Among those who already use the Fells Point-Locust Point water taxi, known as the Inner Harbor Connector, the service is quite a hit.

Beth Huner, 29, and Matt Boyer, 34, disembarked yesterday at Fells Point after their trip in the water taxi Spry and were greeted with the news that the service is expanding to Canton.

"It'll be fabulous," said Huner, who lives there and now walks to the Fells Point pier behind the Living Classrooms building at Caroline and Thames streets.

Huner and Boyer, who lives in Butchers Hill, said they love their commute to Tide Point, where they both work for the UnderArmour athletic clothing company.

Matt Pearse, who lives in Upper Fells Point and works at Tide Point, said he uses the service almost every workday and loves it. Pearse said he now walks and takes a boat ride rather than driving around the Inner Harbor - a trip he said took 20 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes at night.

Kendrick said that in addition to paying for new boats and pier improvements, the federal money will let the city install electronic signs telling passengers when the next boat is expected to arrive.

The commuter taxi service now runs continuously from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday with departures every 10 to 15 minutes, Kendrick said. It is distinct from the seven-day-a-week tourist-oriented service, which charges a fare.

The Fells Point service will soon be able to connect with the planned Charm City Circulator bus service scheduled to begin in late summer, Robinson said. That would, for instance, allow somebody who lives in Locust Point and works at Johns Hopkins Hospital the option of commuting by water taxi and shuttle bus rather than by car.

The $1.59 million competitive grant by the Federal Highway Administration was part of a $60 million pool of money for ferry and related transportation projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed earlier this year at the behest of President Barack Obama.

Kendrick said the city intends to keep the service free for as long as possible. He said that once the city purchases the two new water taxis, the one now on the Fells Point run - less suited for winter service - will be used as a spare.

The water taxis will be operated by Harbor Boating Inc., also known as Ed Kane's Water Taxis, under a contract with the city, Kendrick said.

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