Water taxi plan headed to county commissioners

Water taxi plan to be presented to county commissioners
This photo illustrates the type of vessel proposed for the water taxi service. - Manatee County | Submitted

ANNA MARIA – Elliott Falcione hopes to present Manatee County Commissioners with a proposed water taxi plan on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

Falcione, the director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, made that announcement when appearing before the Anna Maria City Commission on Aug. 11.

Without naming the water taxi company to potentially be contracted by the county, Falcione said the county has an experienced, Florida-based water taxi company in mind. If county commissioners approve the proposed water taxi plan, service between downtown Bradenton and Anna Maria Island could begin as early as February.

Water taxi proposal headed to county commission in September

Elliott Falcione provided Anna Maria Commissioners with a water taxi update on Aug. 11. – Joe Hendricks | SunFalcione said the county might request additional water taxi service during peak visitation periods and major holidays, and service might eventually be expanded

to five or seven days per week. He also said service might one day be expanded to include Longboat Key, Sarasota and/or Palmetto, where an eight-story hotel is currently being built near the convention center.

Falcione told the Anna Maria Commission the estimated trip from downtown Bradenton to the Anna Maria City Pier would take about 30 minutes, and another 20 minutes to travel from the City Pier to the Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

Commissioner Mark Short estimated a round trip from downtown Bradenton and back would take about two hours and result in each boat making approximately four round trips per day.

Short said it’s important that the county-run Island trolley system be able
to accommodate the additional ridership created when dozens of water taxi passengers arrive at the City Pier and require additional ground transport to their desired destinations elsewhere on the Island.

Falcione said the water taxi fare might be in the $8-$10 range but those details are still being worked out. Falcione said Manatee County will subsidize some of the costs associated with the privately contracted water taxi service and those financial details are being handled by County Administrator Scott Hopes.

In reference to previous suggestions made by Mayor Dan Murphy and Commissioner Jon Crane, Falcione said restaurant, lodging and other service industry employees would be able to ride the water taxis for free, with some proof of employment needed.

Crane said it’s great that service workers would ride for free, but he’s concerned about the water taxis only running three days a week. He suggested expanding the days of service before expanding service to additional locations.

Falcione acknowledged that a water taxi service that runs three days a week and ends at 9:30 p.m. will not fully meet the transportation needs of the Island’s service industry employees – some of whom work until 11 p.m. or later.

Murphy said he loves the idea of service workers riding for free because they make up a significant percentage of those who travel by car from the mainland to the Island.

“One of the primary concerns of our residents, and our commissioners as
well, is that a water taxi should reduce congestion. It should have a positive impact on what’s coming across that bridge. If you can make it advantageous for them (the employees), I think you’ll really bring a great benefit to this Island,” Murphy said.

Commissioner Robert Kingan said service workers will also need free parking to make the service viable for them.

Falcione said county staff is working on that and there’s a parking garage in downtown Bradenton within walking distance of the Bradenton day dock.

Water taxi proposal headed to county commission in September
The county-contracted water taxis are expected to resemble the boat shown in this photo provided by Elliott Falcione. – Manatee County | Submitted

When acknowledging the water taxis will also be used by tourists to travel between Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach, Falcione said, “There’s going to be people from Iowa or Indiana that just want to do it for entertainment purposes.”

Reiterating a point he’s made during previous discussions, Falcione said past research indicates 60% of the visitors who stayed in three downtown Bradenton hotels took day trips to Anna Maria Island during their visits.

Commission Chair Carol Carter
asked if the water taxi service would be marketed to visitors coming from nearby Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Falcione said that Convention and Visitors Bureau Marketing and Communications Director Kolby Gayson has already been tasked with making visitors and locals aware of the water taxi service and any associated parking accommodations.

Falcione sought and received informal city commission consensus authorizing the mayor to draft an interlocal agreement for the county’s use of the City Pier as a water taxi stop. Murphy said he would provide the city commission with a draft agreement for preliminary discussion on Thursday, Aug. 25.