Source: Sun Sentinel | Author: Arlene Satchell | Published: June 10, 2016
There’s competition for Fort Lauderdale’s waterways, as a new shuttle service is giving tourists and residents more choices for getting around and exploring.
Armed with a fleet of flamingo-pink boats, Water Shuttle Fort Lauderdale invites passengers to hop on and hop off along eight scheduled stops and one “whistle” call stop along the New River and Intracoastal Waterway.
Among the popular sites within easy reach of Water Shuttle’s Las Olas Boulevard and Fort Lauderdale beach stops are the Broward Center for the Performing Arts/Esplanade Park, Historic Stranahan House Museum and Beach Place.
James Campbell, owner of Marine Hospitality, the shuttle’s parent company, said he is happy with the reception the water shuttle has received since officially launching in April.
“We’re very pleased and pleasantly surprised” with shuttle business so far, he said. “Like any new venture, it’s had its hiccups, but we’re ironing out the kinks and finetuning it as we look to add more routes.”
Despite a dip in traffic, which is expected in the current tourist off-season and typically felt by businesses operating along the waterways, the area’s strong tourism overall and growing year-round population, were key reasons for launching Water Shuttle, Campbell said.
“It was the perfect time to offer folks a fun, car-free transportation alternative with the best views in town,” he said.
Water Shuttle has five boats in its fleet that vary in sizes and carry between 20 and 50 passengers, but only three are operating during the off-season. For now, if offers just Fort Lauderdale stops. Campbell said he plans to expand service to other cities later this year.
Campbell’s new shuttle service is adding competition for other transport operators along the waterways, chiefly Water Taxi of Fort Lauderdale, which has been the sole operator of a similar ferry-type service for about a decade.
Both Water Taxi and Water Shuttle boat routes share several of the same downtown stops such as Las Olas Riverfront/Briny Pub and The Shops & Restaurants of Las Olas Boulevard and Bahia Mar/Bahia Cabana along the beach. Each service also offers some different stops.
Water Shuttle’s service runs daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For a set price, passengers can ride the entire 2 1/2-hour route or hop on and off at various stops.
Tickets cost $20 for riders age 12 and older; $18 for seniors (65 and older) and military personnel with identification; and $10 for children ages 5 to 11. Children age 4 and younger ride for free. For June, it’s offering a buy-one-get-one free ticket promotion.
“It’s a different way to see the city and go around, and I love the water,” said Venezuelan tourist Pablo Bermudez, 37, before boarding his Water Shuttle ride. “I thought it was a good deal, and they include a free lemonade drink, which is a nice touch.”
Bermudez said he was most looking forward to seeing the big yachts and millionaire homes along the waterfront and hearing about their histories from the shuttle’s staff.
“I’ve been here before but had only seen them from the roadways,” he said of the yachts and homes. “I hear it’s a nicer view from the water.”
Meanwhile, Water Taxi offers more than 25 stops, including scheduled and whistle stops around Fort Lauderdale’s New River and the Intracoastal Waterway into Hollywood, said Alex Chin, Water Taxi’s assistant manager.
Its yellow boats travel as far up to Bokamper’s Sports Bar and Grill on the north side of Oakland Park Boulevard. It also offers an express service between Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, and a local Hollywood-only route that runs from the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort to Beachwalk Resort and Lake Point Tower in Hallandale Beach.
Boarding times typically run between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., depending on route and stop, Chin said.
Water Taxi tickets, which include stops in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, cost $26 for adults, $21 for seniors and military personnel and $12 for kids age 5 to 11. The Hollywood-only local route costs $16 per person.
New York tourist Anastasia Belyy, 26, opted for a leisurely Water Taxi ride with her mother on Tuesday as a way to explore more of Fort Lauderdale and recoup after getting too much sun on the beach on Monday.
In town for five days, Belyy snagged a Water Taxi Groupon deal for $28 for an all-day pass for two people to see the sights.
“It’s a great deal for the whole day,” said Belyy, while waiting for a pick-up along the riverfront.
Water Taxi has 11 boats that vary in size and can accommodate between 20 and 200 people on the larger vessels. Each year, the company carries hundreds of thousands of people, Water Taxi President William “Bill” Walker said.
Walker said he doesn’t mind the competition but is concerned consumers may confuse his longtime business with Campbell’s startup.
“We’re not comparing apples to apples. We’re different,” said Walker, who bought the Water Taxi service with business partner Mike McGurl in November 2007. “We’ve been around for quite a while, and we have more boats, more stops, and we carry more people.”
Water Shuttle’s Campbell contends the companies offer a similar service, but said there’s plenty of room for both.
“We’re both water taxis. It’s like Pepsi and Coca-Cola,” he said. “There’s plenty of business on the water for both to operate.”
Additionally, both pay-to-ride services also compete, in part, with the free Water Trolley that offers four stops on each side of the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. It runs daily between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and again from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Campbell operates the free Water Trolley service using a different boat on behalf of the city and its partners, which include the nonprofit Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale.
In addition to these transport services, other Fort Lauderdale businesses offer sightseeing tours and dinner cruises along the waterways, including Jungle Queen Riverboats and Riverfront Cruises (the latter also is owned by Campbell).
His company, Marine Hospitality, has operated commercial boats and luxury yachts for more than 25 years through its Riverfront Cruises and Anticipation Luxury Yacht Charters divisions.
Starting in late August, Campbell said he plans to add three more Water Shuttle boats as he prepares to expand service south to Hollywood and north to Oakland Park — and ramp up for the peak tourist season. A Miami route could also be launched in late December, he said.
Besides offering a fun way to see the sights, the new Water Shuttle service also aims to help alleviate traffic along the city’s roadways.
“It takes people off the road, and one reason the city wanted more competition is to relieve the traffic,” Campbell said.
In July, Fort Lauderdale commissioners approved Campbell’s license to operate the new water shuttle service as a way to increase choices for visitors and residents.
At the time, Chris Wren, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, had said additional water taxi services were needed to promote a growing downtown.
“Water transportation is one of the integral components of Fort Lauderdale’s over-arching vision to create a vibrant, active, fully connected, multi-modal city,” Mayor Jack Seiler said. “With our downtown in the midst of a development boom, our 75 straight months of job growth, and our record-breaking tourism numbers, water transportation provides a quick, easy and convenient option for residents, visitors and workers.”
“Seeing Fort Lauderdale from our picturesque waterways also showcases our city in all of its splendor, reflects the importance of our marine industry, and strengthens our reputation as the ‘Yachting Capital of the World,'” Seiler added.