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By Marie Puleo
The Pompano Beach Water Taxi, which began operating along the Intracoastal Waterway just over a year ago, is getting a helping hand from the City to meet its expenses and continue service. The water taxi needed an average of 30 passengers a day to break even financially in its first year, but the average was only 26, leaving the service provider with a $30,000 shortfall, according to Horacio Danovich, the city’s capital improvements program and Innovation District director.
In January, the City Commission approved the reallocation of monies that were initially set aside for the subsidy of the water taxi in its fourth and fifth years of service. Funding in an amount of $30,000 was moved from Year 5 to cover Year 1, and approximately $30,000 was moved from Year 4 to subsidize Year 2. In July 2017, the Commission approved a total subsidy of $422,635 and a five-year contract for the water taxi’s operator.
Danovich told the Commission that from December 2017 until approximately April 2018, the water taxi was well above an average of 40 passengers per day, but after that, the number of passengers started to decline. There were 17 days of the year when the service could not even be provided due to weather conditions and mechanical issues that had to be addressed, said Danovich.
“Now that we’re going back into the snowbird season, hopefully the service will pick up again,” he said.
Mayor Rex Hardin said that a much higher ridership is anticipated once the development of the pier area is completed and there are more amenities. Reconstruction of the pier is anticipated to be finished by late next month, and the bait and tackle shop should be ready in late May. Oceanic restaurant, which is part of the Pompano Beach Fishing Village development project adjacent to the pier, is expected to open late this spring. Construction of the rest of the Pompano Beach Fishing Village is currently expected to be completed at the end of 2020.
Danovich pointed out that enhancements to the Atlantic Boulevard Bridge that are currently underway will be another attraction to help boost ridership on the water taxi. The upgrades, expected to be completed by June 2019, include a waterfront promenade under the east side of the bridge, large decorative tensioned sails at each end of the bridge, and a marine-themed mural.
“We went into this knowing that it was going to take a while to get it up and running, which is why we’ve allocated funds for subsidies,” Vice Mayor Barry Moss said of the water taxi. “It hasn’t been there long enough for us to really be able to judge.”
Danovich proposed that the City also help the water taxi operator with additional marketing and branding services. He said that efforts will continue to be made to expand the water taxi’s itinerary, which currently runs from Lighthouse Point to Fort Lauderdale. The goal is to eventually secure a stop in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea and at the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse.
“I think we need to give it a little bit more time and just see if we can slowly, incrementally grow this,” said Moss.
The intent is for the water taxi to reduce car transportation, taking people from one venue to another, and not just for sightseeing purposes.
Commissioner Andrea McGee said the water taxi has great potential and suggested the City create a land transportation route that services the water taxi stops to take passengers to the surrounding amenities.
Commissioner Rhonda Eaton supported McGee’s idea, saying golf carts could be used, as she has seen in other cities. She agreed there is a need to heighten awareness of the water taxi service.
“It would be so sad to see it fail,” she said. “Hopefully it’s going to be successful and thrive.”