Water taxi plans on hold in Holmes Beach

water taxi presentation
Corey Hubbard presents a proposal to Holmes Beach commissioners to begin a water taxi service to Egmont Key and Fort DeSoto. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Lack of parking is proving to be a large hurdle to jump for the operators of a proposed water taxi service in Holmes Beach.

The daughter and father team of Corey and Mark Hubbard, of Tampa Bay Ferry, want to bring a 49-person boat to transport guests from Holmes Beach to Fort DeSoto and Egmont Key. To do that, they need a place to dock for up to 15 minutes and, according to commissioners, spaces for guests to park their vehicles.

Commissioners were receptive to the idea of a water taxi with routes leaving from a centralized location. Unlike the Hubbards, commissioners didn’t believe ferry guests would leave their cars at home and take public transportation to the pick-up point.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth said she’s afraid that ferry passengers parking “in the closest spot to get to your ferry” will disrupt local businesses, causing more traffic congestion.

Corey Hubbard insisted that rather than a tour type operation, the ferry her company operates works more like a bus or a trolley with people walking up to use the boat, not driving to it. She said that while the company can tell riders that it’s a walk-up only business and no parking will be available onsite, people choosing to use other businesses’ facilities to park is an issue that “exists in the world outside of our operation. If that’s what holds us up from serving the community, that would be a shame.”

“We’re not looking for a base of operations, just a bus stop,” Mark Hubbard said, likening the water taxi to a trolley or public bus. He said the boat would be housed at Fort DeSoto, where Tampa Bay Ferry has its primary hub of operations and would only idle at the dock for less than 15 minutes.

Corey Hubbard said while she has spoken with management at Waterline about the potential to use one of the docks at the adjacent marina, hotel management was reluctant to enter into discussions without the city’s blessing. She said the project had already been discussed in Anna Maria, where it was turned down by the owner of the Rod & Reel Pier. Using Bradenton Beach as a drop-off point won’t work within the time constraints set by the current boat travel schedule, she said.

Titsworth said the possibility of the water taxi being viewed as a tourist attraction requiring multiple parking spots rather than a mode of transportation still worries her.

“We can’t force people to take the trolley to the ferry,” she said. “We have to consider the neighboring properties and have respect for them.”

Titsworth added that the city requires adequate parking for all commercial businesses.

City attorney Patricia Petruff suggested the Hubbards contact the owners of nearby shopping centers to see if they could lease off-site parking for water taxi customers. At one space for every four passengers, Petruff estimates the water taxi would need 13 parking spaces.

Corey Hubbard said her company would be better off to find another place to serve as a destination and pick-up for passengers rather than pay to lease parking spaces or for docking fees.

To get around the parking issue, Commissioner Carol Soustek suggested the Hubbards speak to Waterline management about providing services exclusively for guests of the hotel.

The Hubbards did not take commissioners’ ideas well, arguing that with proper enforcement, primarily by local law enforcement, the water taxi business would work as a walk-up only service.

“It’s proven, it works, and all you have to do is decide if you want it in your community,” Mark Hubbard said.

Titsworth said commissioners would take time to individually review the information presented, and if it’s something they’re interested in, the matter will be placed on a future work session agenda for continued discussion.