NEWPORT BEACH – Harbor Commissioners have been handed the task of examining the feasibility of launching a water taxi service and floating dock communities in the harbor by year’s end. The direction came from the Newport Beach City Council who voted unanimously on the item during a Feb. 26 meeting.
“The goal is to as rapidly as possible come up with a pilot mooring system to free up the harbor,” said Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill. “We learned the harbor is of significant size when all the moorings were pulled out,”
Mayor Hill revealed his plans to change the harbor’s longstanding boat storage format on Feb.7, when he told constituents that his goal was to open up the harbor to more recreational uses by removing mooring cans while installing new docks that will provide water and power service to mooring holders.
“I’ve heard from mooring people that they get no service and I think that will be a step in the direction,” he added.
Some harbor users are not convinced that the pilot program can be launched as quickly as the mayor would like.
“I always thought it would be a 10-20 year conversion from moorings to floats,” said Marshall “Duffy” Duffield who presented his idea to replace mooring cans with individual fiberglass docks to the Harbor Commission in 2013. “I think it’s an uphill battle; it will get a lot of people upset.”
Duffield, creator of Duffy electric boats, attempted to create an all-fiberglass dock — called a “Duffy Dock” – but stopped after learning of all the permit approvals that were required.
“They have to slow down,” he advised. “There are state issues, permits; mooring association members, negative feedback … I don’t think there is a big demand for it. There are a bunch of empty slips and I think timing in life is everything so I don’t’ think it the right time.”
After Duffield received negative feedback from mooring holders on his dock proposal, and learning how time consuming the permitting process would be to install the 6 feet wide and 50 feet long dock in the harbor, he let the idea go.
Now it is up to the Harbor Commission to determine how to make the mayor’s vision of floating dock community into a reality.
Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich asked that Harbor Commissioners conduct outreach to residents who look out over the mooring fields to get their thoughts on the new docks.
The pilot program will change the harbor’s current mooring system to a floating dock system where water and power will be available. Benefits of the pilot system will open up recreational water space for boaters and water users; generate a need for shore boat activity to and from the docks, which will demand a need for a Newport Harbor water taxi service.
Mayor Hill and City Councilmembers acknowledged the city’s failed attempt to provide a water taxi service to harbor users several years ago.
Supporters believe the service can be a success this time around due to four factors: A demand for access to the floating dock communities; increasing the number of public docks; the new mobile apps Uber and Lyft (LIFT) in Orange County used to locate and call taxis and Newport Beach & Company’s marketing support for the water taxi venture.
The installation of two new public piers is also part of the mayor’s list of priorities for 2014 and an integral part of the water taxi plan. Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank, who chairs the subcommittee on public piers presented recommendations on where additional piers can be added.
Additional piers are recommended to be constructed at Lido Marina Village, Balboa Marina, Lower Castaways, Northwest base of the Lido Isle Bridge and off West Coast highway.
“I’m committed to working with city staff to put in two piers this year,” said Mayor Hill
“As a Duffy owner who spends time in the harbor I think potential locations are spot on,” Mayor Pro Tem Selich said.
New piers are scheduled to be added at Balboa Marina, Lido Marina Village and Central Avenue.
Funding will allocated for developing and implementing the floating mooring docks, adding two more public docks and a year-round electric water taxi.
As recommended, the revenue collected from visiting boaters paying short term mooring rental fees be dedicated to funding the water taxi and floating docks.
“I want to make sure that we are not just looking at electric powered water taxis,” said Mayor Pro Tem Selich who explained that the charging stations for hybrid and electric vessels are costly. “I want to make sure we look at all types of propulsion.” Shanda Lear, owner of Lear Electric Boats, provided her support for the service, “We are delighted that you are talking about having a water taxi,” she said. “If properly advertised it can bring people to the water and make them love Newport Beach as much as we do.”
“I think this is an initiative that we have to look at carefully and see what service model we can use,” said Councilman Keith Curry. “Waterborne transportation is one of the most expensive and usually involves a subsidy.”
Harbor Commission Chairman Duncan McIntosh asked for direction from the council on whether the water taxi service will be a point-to-point service and how many vessels will be in operation.
“These are two different directions you can take, “Chairman McIntosh explained. “A delivery service on demand or if it’s operating as a tour service then it is competing with those running those services in the harbor.”
Chairman McIntosh worried that the service will be fairly expensive.
“This may be something the city looks at funding or overwriting,” he added.
Harbor Commissioners will return to the council with recommendations on whether the service will be a private or publicly funded venture.
Mayor Hill explained that the service would not operate as a tour service and envisions the electric water taxi to will run to schedule on busy summer months but run only as needed during the off season.
The task of forming a pilot water taxi and floating dock system now sits with the Harbor Commission who will discuss the items at a March 12 meeting.