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Date of Issue: June 28, 2007

Water-taxi service floats in limbo

Water-taxi service to Anna Maria Island isn’t dead in the water, but only stalled a bit, according to a report offered to Island transportation planners last week.

Bradenton Beach project/program manager Lisa Marie Phillips gave members of the Island Transportation Planning Organization an overview of the type of service that could be provided in the area.

The waterborne service, which could link varied mainland locations to the Island, has been under consideration by transportation officials for more than two years. Highlights of the service, besides the vista potential for visitors and residents taking advantage of the alternative transportation to cars or buses, would include lessening gridlock on Island and state roads and eliminating parking problems.

Bradenton Beach is in the process of creating a dockage facility at its Historic Bridge Street Pier on Anna Maria Sound. That dock could become a hub of Island water-taxi service, with easy access to the current free Manatee Trolley which runs the length of the Island.

Phillips told ITPO members that the water taxi, if approved, could accommodate commuters from the mainland to the Island, as well as visitors.

Routes and types of the vessels has been a sticking point for the service, as well as the associated insurance, maintenance, storage and fuel access.

The Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization in April 2005 agreed that the water taxi idea was feasible for the region and should be placed in the long-range planning list of things to consider in the future.

The group also agreed to bring the water-taxi concept back to its respective cities and counties for further discussion - particularly regarding funding.

A study conducted by Renaissance Planning Group concluded that "waterborne transportation holds enormous potential for improving mobility, increasing accessibility and supporting redevelopment objectives in the Sarasota-Manatee region.

"Water-taxi service is feasible as an element of the area’s transportation system that provides both social-recreational trips and one that enables commuters to reach destination along coastal waterways and rivers," according to Renaissance’s Whit Blanton. "As the Manatee Island Trolley has demonstrated, benefits to both markets will likely occur through a well-designed system."

Blanton at the time looked at several different routes and concluded that a pilot project based in the Sarasota-St. Armands-City Island area would be the best area to try out the service. He added that the Sarasota concept was recommended "because the city has made the most progress of all local governments in securing facilities for water-taxi docking and other amenities from developers, accumulating funds for development, and establishing an ordinance governing operating procedures and standards."

Unfortunately for water-taxi proponents, the city planner who was heading up that aspect of the project left Sarasota. The scheme then languished.

Blanton estimated that "an initial pilot program in Sarasota would entail capital costs of about $500,000, and annual operating costs of just over $500,000."

Funding sources to pay for the program could include federal or state grants, Blanton said, with fares likely to cover no more than 50 percent of the operating costs. Fares would probably be in the $2-$5 range, he added in 2005.

No current plans for the service are in the works in either county, although there is still interest by many local lawmakers for a water taxi in the area.