NB harbor stakeholders concerned water taxi may steal business, clientele

NB harbor stakeholders concerned water taxi may steal business, clientele

NEWPORT BEACH – Questions of how a water taxi will operate without taking away business from harbor tours and companies in the bay arose during an Ad Hoc Water Taxi Subcommittee meeting, May 8.

Harbor stakeholders, residents and boaters discussed ways for the water taxi operation to avoid competing with other companies in the harbor such as The Fun Zone Boat Company, Gondola Co. of Newport Beach and others.

Hank Wiessnen, owner of The Fun Zone Boat Company, questioned what actions will be taken to ensure the water taxi service does not become a harbor tour.

“Captains work for tips and they could start doing the narrated harbor cruise and that’s where it might become competitive,” he said.

Incorporating drop off and pick up points along the company’s harbor tour route was also discussed by Wiessen, who believes it will be easy to do. They operate tours every hour on the hour during the busy season.

Committee members do not anticipate the service to operate as a tour service, which are currently in operation around the bay. Rather, the taxi service will run to schedule.

Gary Sherman of Visit Newport Beach expressed an interest in helping to promote the water taxi service. He also believes that the operation would only whet riders’ appetites and get them excited about the harbor – not take away business from other harbor operations.

“This will get them excited about all the things there are to see and to do around the harbor and  hopefully get them to spend more money at those businesses around the harbor,” Sherman said. “With thought and imagination I believe we can find a way to promote the harbor cruises without jeopardizing a nice engaging experience that people can have on the water taxi.”

Jim Mahoney, owner of Gondola Co. of Newport Beach who operates the only water taxi in the harbor, answered the committee’s questions on how the business operates and its popularity. According to Mahoney, riders pay $25 for a ride either aboard the boat or a gondola.

“If I have a gondolier waiting for a gondola cruise then I will send them over,” he said.

Mahoney operates a boat that he rebuilt 10 years ago, which required Coast Guard certification.

When West asked if there was demand for the on-call service, Mahoney explained, “There is very little demand for this. I get a lot of response from people who miss the charter boats and need a shore boat to get them there. I do drop people off at restaurants but very little.”

The demand is somewhat limited; it doesn’t pay for itself,” he added.

Commissioner Joe Stapleton reported that after discussions with Uber representatives, he reached out to Visit Newport Beach with an interest in building on the company’s Newport Beach app.

“My feeling is that if we can keep it in house and we can manage it it makes it more feasible than using a third party,” Stapleton said.

The app may be redesigned to allow users to track water taxi locations and schedule pick-ups.

The committee will present the pilot program to the City Council in June.

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