Readying three water taxis for the Delaware

Posted: September 23, 2012

The three boats, bobbing by rows of kayaks, swan boats, and wooden rowboats in the marina just south of Market Street, don't look like much.

Painted a jaunty blue and white, and emblazoned with the names of Philadelphia luminaries - William Penn, Ben Franklin, and Stephen Girard - they're dwarfed by the battleship across the Delaware and the tall ship across the marina.

They haven't even embarked on their maiden voyages. But the three water taxis represent what Philadelphia waterfront officials hope is the beginning of a new future for the Delaware River - one where water travel isn't a novelty.

The taxis were bought by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. in 2003 as part of a planned project for Penn's Landing between Market and Walnut Streets.

The boats were to be marketed as the Waterlink - a companion to the Riverlink ferry connecting Camden's and Philadelphia's waterfronts.

Developers planned a "family entertainment complex" with retail, but financing fell through, said Joe Forkin, DRWC's vice president for operations and development.

So the boats, purchased for about $170,000 apiece, sat in storage for almost a decade.

This year, the corporation - spurred by a new master plan aimed at getting more Philadelphians (and tourists) out on the water - has finally taken the Franklin, the Girard, and the Penn out for spins on the Delaware.

The boats are capable of holding 22 people each. They must pass Coast Guard safety tests before being deemed capable of shuttling passengers up and down the river. The Franklin and the Penn have passed their tests, Forkin said; the Girard has a round left.

"We're still early in the process. All we're doing is certifying the vessels themselves," he said. The organization has not yet decided where the boats might stop, how far they might travel, and how fast they would go - all of which require Coast Guard approval.

Forkin says the corporation hopes to begin chartered water-taxi trips next year. "Ultimately, we hope to serve an increased tourist base - getting people used to being on the water," he said. "You can park your car and then hit different destinations."

Tourism officials say they're excited about the opportunity water taxis could present for the waterfront.

"People have been looking at this for a very long time," said Meryl Levitz, chief executive officer of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. "It's a big, busy river, and to make it work right, it takes a lot. We're thrilled the DRWC is taking it on."

Waterfront proponents have advocated water taxis for some time, Levitz said, but the idea had never really caught on. With increased development on the waterfront, she feels the time is ripe: "Philly's ready for it."


Contact Aubrey Whelan at 215-854-2771 or awhelan@philly.com.

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