Item Coversheet



TO: Finance and Economic Resiliency Committee Members

Alina T. Hudak, City Manager

DATE: May 24, 2023




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 (“Poseidon”) 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 was 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). Poseidon’s fare structure was competitive with current public transit fares ($3 per passenger each way for commuters). Per Poseidon, the annual operating and maintenance cost of the service was approximately $600,000 for one (1) vessel operating seven (7) days a week at a service frequency of one (1) hour from Sunday to Friday (from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.) and limited departures on Saturday. The service was suspended on December 31, 2022 due to low ridership.


On March 27, 2023, at the request of Commissioner Steven Meiner, the City Commission referred a discussion (Item C4 O) to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Quality of Life Committee and the Finance and Economic Resiliency Committee to discuss obtaining federal, state and county funding to implement a free water taxi / ferry service program in Miami Beach, to incentivize residents to use water taxis as an alternative mode of transportation.


Federal Grant Programs

 The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (“FTA”) has established new grant programs under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand and improve the nation’s ferry services in communities nationwide and accelerate the transition to zero-emission transportation. Private ferry operators are not eligible to apply for any of the federal grant programs; however, the City is eligible to apply for two (2) grant programs further described below. For both programs, a local match of 20% is required. The Notice of Funding Opportunity for both programs is expected to be released this summer or fall. Exact release date, detailed application requirements, and the submission deadline is yet to-be-determined. It is important to note that to be eligible for funding through the below grant programs, the water taxi/ferry project or service must be or have been competitively procured.


·       Passenger Ferry Grant Program

 The purpose of this program is to support the purchase of electric or low-emission ferries, the electrification of (or other form of reduction of emissions from) existing ferries, and the purchase of related charging or other fueling infrastructure. The overarching aim of the program is to reduce emissions or produce zero onboard emissions under normal ferry service operations. Eligible activities are capital projects to purchase, replace, or rehabilitate passenger ferries, terminals, and related facilities and equipment. Planning or operating expenses are not eligible under this grant program.


·       Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot Program (“Low-No Ferry Program”)

 The purpose of this program is to support capital projects to improve existing passenger ferry services; establish new ferry services; and repair and modernize ferry boats, terminals, and related facilities and equipment. Eligible projects are capital projects for the purchase, construction, replacement, or rehabilitation of ferries, terminals, related infrastructure, and related equipment, including fare equipment and communication devices. Planning or operating expenses are not eligible under this grant program.


State Grant Programs

 The Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) currently administers state-funded grant programs that provide financial assistance for planning, implementation, and/or operational support for water taxi/ferry projects and service.


·       Public Transit Service Development Program (“PTSD”)

 PTSD specifically includes projects involving the use of new technologies, services, routes, or service frequencies; the purchase of special transportation services; and other such techniques for improving service to the public. Projects involving the application of new technologies or methods for improving operations, maintenance, and marketing in public transit systems are also eligible for program funding. A local match of 50% is required and PTSD-funded projects are subject to specified times of duration, but no more than three years. Projects submitted for funding must be justified in the recipient’s Transit Development Plan or other similar plan or study. Of note, the City has been successful in securing PTSD grants to fund a portion of the cost of the Miami Beach Trolley service for several years.


·       Transportation Regional Incentive Program (“TRIP”)

 TRIP encourages regional planning by providing state matching funds for improvements to regionally significant transportation facilities identified and prioritized by eligible partners. The eligible partners are required to form a regional transportation area, pursuant to an interlocal agreement, and develop a regional transportation plan that identifies and prioritizes regionally significant facilities. The program is a matching program designed to leverage investments in regionally significant roads and public transportation projects. The City is not eligible to apply for this program as a stand-alone entity; however, Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works (“DTPW”) has applied for a TRIP grant to finalize a feasibility study and define mobility needs for waterborne transportation along Biscayne Bay, which could potentially benefit the City.  


Currently, there are no grant programs available at the local (i.e. Miami-Dade County) level for water taxi/ferry projects or services. Transportation and Mobility Department staff will work with the Grants Management Division to seek federal and state funding opportunities for a potential future commuter-based cross-bay water taxi/ferry service.


The Administration is aware of the desire to seek external funding opportunities to support potential future water taxi/ferry service projects and will continue to work across departments to pursue federal and state grants that can support the planning, implementation, operation, and maintenance of water taxi/ferry projects and services as an alternative mobility option for residents, workforce, and visitors.

Applicable Area

Is this a "Residents Right to Know" item, pursuant to City Code Section 2-14? Does this item utilize G.O. Bond Funds?
No No 

Strategic Connection

Mobility - Increase multi-modal mobility citywide and connectivity regionally.
Attachment A - Resolution No. 2013-28430Resolution
Attachment B - Resolution No. 2014-28665Resolution
Attachment C - LTC No. 422-2020Other
Referral Item C4 O, March 27, 2023 Memo