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Schedule Resolved : Water Taxi a Step Closer to Launch

Times Staff Writer

The biggest obstacle facing a proposed San Diego Bay water taxi service has been surmounted, moving the project an important step closer to a December opening.

While a few “minor details” between the San Diego Unified Port District and Coronado boatyard owner John Sawicki are still being worked out, the most controversial part of the taxi plan--involving whether the taxis would run on a set schedule or an on-call basis--has been resolved, Sawicki and the Port District said Wednesday.

Although the water taxi proposal--envisioned to shuttle tourists among bayfront hotels, restaurants and attractions--was approved in concept by the Board of Port Commissioners last month, it withheld final approval because of Sawicki’s plan to operate his vessels on a set departure schedule.

Worried About Residents

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The problem with that, according to the Port District’s staff, was that the taxi service would instead become a ferry service and thus a magnet to local residents who, the Port District feared, would park their cars along the waterfront or Seaport Village for most of the day, thereby taking up precious parking space.

Sawicki at first balked at the idea of having only an on-call service for his vessels, which he says cost $65,000 each and are capable of carrying 30 people in an enclosed, air-conditioned craft known as a canal boat. “I can’t have 10 boats waiting around for the phone to ring . . . that’s not financially feasible,” he said at the time.

But Sawicki, through his attorney, William Dysart, and former Port Commissioner Ben Cohen of Coronado, offered the Port District a compromise.

He agreed not to have charter operations, not to advertise the taxi service, not to sell food or drinks on board or at dockside, not to hold the boats at the dock waiting for a full load, and, most important, he agreed to post schedules only in hotels.

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Concern Alleviated

“Most aspects of the new proposal . . . go a long way toward alleviating the staff’s concern about the proposed operation and the impact it will have on the parking supply in the area,” said a recent report signed by Port District Director Don Nay.

On Wednesday, Nay said that the water taxi proposal “looks much more reasonable to us. . . . We’re very, very optimistic this thing will be settled.”

The only things left to resolve, according to Nay, are “minor details,” such as where the water taxi employees will park, the taxis’ hours of operation, and a standard “buy-back” contract provision allowing the Port District to eventually buy from Sawicki a special float and gangway for the taxis. That would be built on the south side of the Fish Harbor Pier, next to Seaport Village.

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The dock, which will cost more than $100,000, would be used by the taxis along with existing slips and docks already provided at waterfront hotels and restaurants.

“I can’t put schedules up at the public docks . . . but I think we’ll still be all right,” Sawicki said Wednesday. “I’ve already gone ahead and ordered the construction of three boats.”

The taxis, according to Sawicki, would operate daily from about 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Although exact fares have yet to be determined, Sawicki said a taxi ride will probably cost $3 to $7, depending on the length of the trip.

He hopes to have the three water taxis operating on the bay by Dec. 6, in time to work out the bugs before the Super Bowl, which will be held in San Diego in January. Sawicki says his proposal has already received the endorsement of several restaurants and hotels, including the Hotel Inter-Continental, which will serve as the National Football League’s headquarters during Super Bowl week.

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While Sawicki says he wants to be ready for visitors attending the professional football championship game, he expects the taxis’ more regular customers will come in large part from the waterfront convention center now under construction.


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