Harbor Commission gets in queue for water taxis

Newport Beach residents and visitors could be cruising to their favorite bayside destination by boat this time next year.

The Harbor Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to form two ad-hoc committees, made up of harbor commissioners, to evaluate a water taxi service and a new mooring system in the harbor.

Mayor Rush Hill presented his plans to the commission, instructing members to make a recommendation to the City Council within eight months regarding how to implement the water taxi service.

"I would like to see some thinking outside of the box," he said. "Let's get something we can try. Not a big-scale operation, but something we can test."

The service would carry Newport residents and visitors around the harbor and hopefully alleviate traffic around the peninsula on the weekends, Hill said.

The committee will determine details, such as the number of needed boats, the type of boats that would be used and whether they would run on a fixed loop or on demand.

Although water taxis didn't gain popularity in Newport Beach when they were first tested in 1994, Hill believes new factors make this an opportune time to try again.

Commissioner Joe Stapleton suggested tapping into technology used by companies such as Uber or Lyft — both run on-demand car services that are generally cheaper than taxis — to promote the water taxi system.

"Maybe looking at the availability of taxis with an app on your phone might make them more effective than they were previously," he said.

Other factors like Newport Beach and Co. expressing interest in marketing the taxis as a destination item, and the city identifying the need for additional public piers in the harbor, make water taxis a more feasible idea than ever before, Hill said.

Several members of the public, many of whom have owned boats in the harbor for years, expressed interest in the water taxi idea and offered to provide the committee with advice and expertise.

They also raised questions that will need to be worked out by the committee, such as how the city will pay for the water taxi service and market it year-round, even in the colder winter months.

Hill also proposed a change in the mooring system from cans to floating docks, which several members of the Newport Beach Mooring Assn. were skeptical of during the meeting.

Dan Runner, an NMA director, raised concerns about a certain seaside critter that often makes a home on the docks and boats on the harbor.

"There's one group of individuals in the harbor that would be extremely happy with the mooring with a dock on it — the sea lions," he said. "It would be impossible to keep them off."

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