Harbor Commission weighs water taxi pilot program, Grand Canal improvements

Harbor Commission weighs water taxi pilot program, Grand Canal improvements

NEWPORT BEACH— Members of the Water Taxi Ad Hoc Committee concluded they will not recommend action for a pilot program to City Council, officials explained during a June 11 Harbor Commission meeting.

The committee, made up of Harbor Commissioners Doug West, David Girling and Joseph Stapelton, will provide a presentation to City Council on a study session June 24.

“I believe that we are not going to make a recommendation to the council as to whether or not we think the council should move forward with a pilot program,” West said. “We intend to give them the benefit of everything that we’ve been able to learn about what a pilot program may look like and what it would probably cost.”

The commission has considered several options including a point-to-point system, and a water bus, which would establish a route with a specific schedule. West said one of the biggest challenges has been estimating the demands for a water transportation system in the harbor.

“We’ve been able to determine that there clearly is an interest in the community, but we have no way of gauging what the actual demand might be,” he said.

Demand for any kind of transportation service on the water would be seasonal, West added. Challenges such as the size of the harbor and speed limits are among the obstacles preventing the creation of an efficient on-demand system.

The committee was in agreement that any meaningful pilot test would employ at least four boats and anything less would fail to showcase the program’s capability. Suitable test boats would cost about $150,000 each.

The committee determined a pilot program would require a Coast Guard certified captain and deck hand on each vessel; ADA requirements would need to be met, and some kind of subsidy would be required for startup from the city or county. The earliest a potential pilot test could be instituted would be the summer of 2015.

Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller also provided an update on upcoming projects in Balboa Island’s Grand Canal. Miller said Public Work’s is in the process of planning the replacement of the canal’s bridge, which is scheduled to begin in 2015 and end sometime in 2016. Initial plans are to maintain the bridge’s original look and design.

Miller added that Grand Canal’s seawall will be replaced in 2018, while a dredging project is being discussed for 2015.

Outgoing Harbor Commissioner Karen Rhyne was also recognized with a special ceremony for her service to the Newport boating community. Rhyne, who was presented with a “silver chalk award” from Harbor Resources, will join the Aviation Committee.

“This commission has opened a whole new world for me—new friendships, learning about city politics and state politics,” Rhyne said. “I really wish more people would get involved with this commission…I’ve learned so much and I think I got way more than I gave.”

The Harbor Commission will name a new member before the next meeting, schedule for July 21 at 6:30 p.m.

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