|Finance and Economic Resiliency Committee Members
|Alina T. Hudak, City Manager
|May 24, 2023
DISCUSS IMPLEMENTING A WATER TAXI / FERRY SERVICE IN THE CITY, AND PROVIDING A POTENTIAL SUBSIDY FOR THE PROGRAM, IN AN EFFORT TO REDUCE THE FARES CHARGED TO PASSENGERS AND PROMOTE AN ALTERNATIVE MODE OF TRANSPORTATION BETWEEN MIAMI BEACH AND DOWNTOWN MIAMI
A water taxi is a watercraft that provides public transport service, usually, but not always, in an urban environment. The service may be fixed schedule/fixed route with multiple stops, operating similarly to a bus, or on-demand to many locations, operating similarly to a taxi. Aside from being an attraction to tourists who enjoy the scenic cross-bay route, water taxi service can also provide a convenient and reliable alternative mobility option to commuters traveling daily to and from Downtown Miami and the City of Miami Beach (“City”), connecting various destinations in the City and on the mainland.
In January 2012, the City's Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority (“MWPA”) discussed this subject and passed a resolution recommending that the City develop a plan for waterborne transportation services within the City and to mainland Miami. The recommendation included the development of a pier or dock at the Lincoln Road street-end with the potential for additional dock locations at 5 Street, 10 Street, 14 Street, and the Purdy Avenue Dock at Maurice Gibb Park.
At the October 28, 2013 Neighborhood and Community Affairs Committee (“NCAC”) meeting, the NCAC recommended that the Administration explore the feasibility of the proposed dock locations, gather more details regarding the potential service, and provide an update to the NCAC. On December 11, 2013, the City Commission adopted Resolution No. 2013-28430 (Attachment A), accepting the recommendation of the NCAC.
At the April 30, 2014 NCAC meeting, City staff provided feedback regarding potential locations for water taxi terminals and recommended conducting public meetings to obtain community input regarding potential water taxi dock locations. The NCAC recommended that prior to conducting any public meetings, staff conduct a survey of City employees to determine if water taxi service would provide a suitable alternative to commute to work.
On July 23, 2014, the City Commission adopted Resolution No. 2014-28665 (Attachment B), rejecting the NCAC's recommendation and, instead, directed the City Administration to prepare an Invitation to Negotiate (“ITN”) to seek proposals from qualified firms interested in providing the City with waterborne public transportation services. Pursuant to this direction, the City issued an ITN for a pilot cross-bay waterborne transportation service. The solicitation required that the water taxi service be provided at no cost to the City and that the operator provide all necessary infrastructure, including a docking facility, for the safe operation of the service. The ITN resulted in only one (1) responsive and responsible bidder (“Water Taxi Miami, Inc.”). As such, the City executed a contract with Water Taxi Miami, Inc. to operate a one (1) year water taxi pilot program from December 30, 2016 to December 30, 2017, at no cost to the City, connecting the Purdy Avenue Dock at Maurice Gibb Park, Sea Isle Marina at Omni, Bayside Marketplace in Downtown Miami, and the Miami Beach Marina. Due to its high fares, weekend-only service, and infrequent weekday service, the pilot was not deemed a practical, competitive, reliable, convenient, or financially viable operation and was terminated on December 30, 2017.
On September 8, 2020, Poseidon Ferry LLC presented a water ferry service operating plan to the MWPA. Poseidon Ferry launched service on November 29, 2020, using a double-deck vessel with an air-conditioned lower deck. The water taxi service is privately owned and operated with no public subsidy from Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, or the City. The service provided connectivity to and from the Hyatt Regency located at 400 SE 2nd Avenue in Downtown Miami and the Bentley Bay Marina located at 520 West Avenue in Miami Beach, where the water taxi connected to the County’s MetroMover system and the South Beach Trolley service, respectively. Service commencement was shared with the City Commission via LTC No. 422-2020 (Attachment C). The service was suspended on December 31, 2022 due to low ridership.
On March 27, 2023, at the request of Commissioner David Richardson, the City Commission referred a discussion (Item C4 N) to the Finance and Economic Resiliency Committee to discuss implementing a water taxi / ferry service in the City, and providing a potential subsidy for the program, in an effort to reduce the fares charged to passengers and promote an alternative mode of transportation between Miami Beach and Downtown Miami.
Water taxi service could provide an alternative mode of transportation for residents, visitors, and workforce using waterways between the cities of Miami Beach and Miami. This connectivity is essential for residents who work, study, or engage in recreational activities in both cities. Currently, the options available to residents, visitors, and workforce are to use their personal vehicles, taxi/ride-share services, or public transportation (Miami-Dade County buses). However, with an efficient cross-bay water taxi service, residents, visitors, and workforce employees can avoid traffic congestion on the causeways and reduce travel time, making it a convenient, attractive, and affordable commuting option.
Based on information received from Poseidon Ferry LLC, which operated ferry service between Miami Beach and Miami until December 31, 2022, the annual operating cost of the service was approximately $600,000 (excluding docking fees) for one (1) vessel operating seven (7) days per week with one (1)-hour frequency of service from Sunday to Friday (from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm) and limited departures on Saturday. The fare for Florida residents was $5 per person per trip, and the fare for visitors was $10 per person per trip. Poseidon’s fare structure was competitive with current public transit fares at $3 per passenger each way for commuters.
The Administration believes that for water taxi service to be a convenient and reliable transit option, the frequency of service should be 30 minutes or less. Assuming a similar business model and operational costs as Poseidon Ferry LLC, the estimated cost of operating full turnkey water taxi service using two (2) vessels (instead of one) to provide a 30-minute frequency of service would be approximately $1.2 million annually.
The cost associated with subsidizing 50% (or approximately $600,000) of the annual operations and maintenance costs of a cross-bay water taxi service (based on Poseidon Ferry’s costs) has been presented as part of a tentative proposed FY 2024 operating budget enhancement for consideration by the City Commission. Given cross-bay water taxi service constitutes a regional transportation service extending beyond the jurisdictional limits of Miami Beach, should the City Commission wish to explore an operating subsidy for the service, the Administration recommends pursuing a collaboration and potential funding partnership with the City of Miami and/or Miami-Dade County. Pursuing a competitive solicitation for the service would also be advantageous to the City in order to seek certain external funding opportunities, and to compare and evaluate multiple vendors’ approaches to the service, operating plans, and vessel types/technologies.
Water taxi service could provide an alternative mode of transportation for residents, visitors, and workforce using waterways between the cities of Miami Beach and Miami.
The Administration recommends that staff continue to explore options for cross-bay water taxi service as well as a potential collaboration with the City of Miami and/or Miami-Dade County to develop a plan for a future, potentially subsidized water taxi service connecting Miami Beach and Miami.
|Is this a "Residents Right to Know" item, pursuant to City Code Section 2-14?
|Does this item utilize G.O. Bond Funds?
|Mobility - Increase multi-modal mobility citywide and connectivity regionally.