County pursuing water taxi service to AMI

County pursuing water taxi service to AMI
The soon to be expanded floating dock near the Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach has been mentioned as a potential water taxi stop. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

MANATEE COUNTY – The county hopes to provide water taxi service between downtown Bradenton and Anna Maria Island as early as Memorial Day weekend.

Possible water taxi landing stops on the Island include the Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach and the City Pier in Anna Maria; both would require the support of those city governments. A potential landing area has not yet been identified in Holmes Beach.

The long-debated water taxi service was discussed during the Feb. 1 Council of Governments meeting and the county is now in the process of issuing an Invitation to Negotiate for water taxi operators to use in crafting their proposals.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor Bureau Director Elliott Falcione led the recent discussion, saying the county commission directed County Administrator Scott Hopes to initiate a water taxi system. Hopes then assigned those responsibilities to Falcione and Manatee County Public Works Director Chad Butzow, with Manatee County Transit Manager Bill Steele, MCAT Planning Manager Jonathan Roberson and others assisting with the efforts.

“It’s time to take advantage of the waterways in our beautiful community,” Falcione said.

Falcione said the goal is to have a water taxi pilot program operational by Memorial Day weekend and he’s already had preliminary discussions with all the mayors in Manatee County except Longboat Key.

“Each city’s going to have some suggestions, they’re going to have some concerns. I urge the cities to find balance. We have to swiftly and effectively come up with a plan as Bill Steele and the county go through an invitation to negotiate for procurement,” Falcione said, noting the procurement process will provide additional insight from water taxi operators regarding efficiency, frequency of the service and the initial landing spots.

He also said past surveys of Anna Maria Island beachgoers and hospitality workers indicate support for a water taxi system.

Speaking next, Steele said Roberson has been researching water taxi programs in other parts of the state and country. During his presentation, Steele referenced the Water Taxi Feasibility Study completed by the Metropolitan Planning Organization in 2005. He said that study is dated but still provides relevant conclusions regarding funding, service needs and key destinations.

County pursuing water taxi service to Anna Maria Island
This slide included in Bill Steele’s presentation illustrates one of the reasons for a water taxi system. – Manatee County | Submitted

Steele said it’s important for the areas served by water taxis to be connected to the ground transit system that includes MCAT buses and the free Island Trolleys.

“Initially we need to go from downtown Bradenton to AMI. As this service progresses and gets more productive in terms of ridership, there are always opportunities to expand,” Steele said.

Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier said, “We may not be the first point of entry, but we’d like to be in the loop.”

Falcione agreed and said the Sarasota area could also play a future role in the water taxi system, with a potential landing spot at the county-owned Powel Crosley Estate near the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

County Commissioner Misty Servia said she’s excited to see a water taxi program finally moving forward but she doesn’t want the downtown Bradenton businesses to lose their existing parking spaces to water taxi users.

Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown said a water taxi system would bring more visitors from Anna Maria Island to downtown Bradenton, which would benefit the downtown businesses.

Regarding downtown parking, Brown said, “Right now we have a parking garage with 400 spaces that I would say isn’t 25% utilized.”

Mayor John Chappie noted the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) will soon expand the floating dock near the Bridge Street Pier, using matching funds provided by the county. That project will include perpendicular finger docks and a designated docking space for water taxis, ferries and other commercial vessels. Chappie said public restrooms and other amenities are already in place, including the Old Town Trams that transport visitors to their destinations within the greater Bridge Street area.

Butzow said securing the landing spots will be a major point of emphasis in the procurement process and the county seeks partnerships with public entities and private businesses for landing areas that provide walkability and access to buses, trolleys, trams and other means of ground transportation.

As of Friday, the requisition to draft an Invitation to Negotiate had been submitted and, once completed, will be posted at the Manatee County bids and proposals website and the Periscope S2G government bidding website.

Anna Maria mayor’s input

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy did not attend the COG meeting but he addressed the proposed water taxi service during the city commission’s Thursday, Feb. 10 meeting.

Reiterating statements he’s made in the past, and has communicated to Falcione, Murphy said, “I am not in favor of a tourist taxi. I don’t think we need more parking congestion at the pier because we’re running a shuttle service, or restaurant shuttles going down the Island. A benefit would be a water taxi that is focused on employees coming to and from work from downtown Bradenton to the Island.”

County pursuing water taxi service to Anna Maria Island
The Anna Maria City Pier will be considered as a potential water taxi landing area. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Murphy said carpenters and others who work in trades that require tools and equipment are unlikely to use a water taxi for work purposes, but some hospitality, retail and service industry employees would likely use the service if it’s affordable, fast, convenient and reliable.

“I think it should be part of the county transit system and I believe it probably should be subsidized so it’s affordable,” Murphy said.

County pursuing water taxi service to Anna Maria Island
This graphic from the 2015 Urban Land Institute study illustrates who uses the bridges that connect Anna Maria Island to the mainland. – ULI | Submitted

Murphy said the City Pier’s existing landing area can accommodate a water taxi, but the city commission will decide whether that use is allowed.

“This is really the most logical place to put it. I do believe it would be a benefit under these conditions but it’s going to be your call,” Murphy told the commission.

When contacted, Mayor Judy Titsworth said she doesn’t currently envision a water taxi stop in Holmes Beach and the county’s planned improvements to the Kingfish boat ramp don’t currently include a water taxi stop.