Newport water taxis are a million-dollar idea – at least
BY TAYLOR HILL
With a proposal to model Newport Beach’s water taxi system after the Marina del Rey’s WaterBus system, Harbor Commissioner Doug West told City Council members at their Tuesday study session to expect similar costs if they want something comparable.
Over the past three months, West and fellow Harbor Commissioners Joe Stapleton and David Girling have been looking at what it would take to get a water taxi service in Newport Beach. They’re doing it at the request of Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill, who tasked the commission back in March to look at the feasibility of water taxis and a floating dock system in the harbor.
What they’ve come up with looks a lot like what’s running in Marina del Rey – a water bus-type system operating multiple vessels that would run on a loop, stopping at about eight locations in the harbor. And with a cost of $150,000 per vessel, $25 per hour boat captain fees, $20 deckhand fees and dock infrastructure costs, West said the price to get it up and running could be in the millions. West said the price to get it up and running could be in the millions.
Also similar to Marina del Rey’s system – which receives more than $400,000 annually from Los Angeles County in subsidies – Newport Beach’s system would need some help.
But whether city officials are willing to give that help has yet to be determined.
Councilwoman Nancy Gardner wondered if funds for water-borne transportation might be better spent on a tram operating along the Balboa Peninsula or Mariner’s Mile along the Pacific Coast Highway.
“If we are going to subsidize something, which we seem to be getting into the business of more and more, we ought to subsidize the right thing for the city,” Gardner said.
West and his fellow commissioners suggested the City Council look at hiring an outside consultant to determine more accurately the demand and cost for a water taxi system and draft a Request for Proposals that would attract potential businesses interested in running the system for the city.
“Newport Beach is one of the very few places in Orange County that really could provide a water taxi environment,” Mayor Hill said. “I don’t think we need to over analyze this thing. I think we need to try a pilot program.”
With the cost of hiring an outside consultant under debate, council members determined to keep the consulting in-house, directing city staff to iron out more details on the feasibility of the water taxi system, and bring a report back to the council at a later meeting.