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Pittsburgh Water Taxis

Small, maneuverable, attractive passenger boats running both a regular route and on-demand, in and around downtown Pittsburgh.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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By using Pittsburgh’s rivers, our water taxis reduce road congestion, reduce parking requirements and possibly reduce car ownership. Water taxis provide an alternative to public transportation, never suffer from road construction or traffic delays, and will often deliver customers closer to desirable venues than any other motorized transportation option. We envision a fleet of six to ten 8-10 passenger boats similar to those found in Victoria and Vancouver, BC. Each taxi is covered and weather-protected, and each is very maneuverable and can access a variety of small river landings quickly and easily. The taxis will be captained by older citizens who combine the city’s well-known work ethic, a customer-centric perspective and a command of city history, both human and natural.

We plan to make the boats electric drive, minimizing both air and water pollution, providing a quiet ride, and extolling the virtues of fossil-free transportation, while enjoying the beauty of Pittsburgh as seen from the rivers’ level and creating a subtle awareness of the rivers’ ecosystem that most commuters and visitors never currently glimpse.

The water taxis will work on two models. 1) We will establish a standard route for the water taxis and create a fleet that ensures that no passenger waits more than ten minutes or so for the next taxi. For a reasonable fee ($5/rider? Discounts for multi-ride purchases?) passengers can ride the standard route and get on or off at any stop. Specific stops need to be determined, but most will be publicly available landings in and around downtown, possibly including the following:

  • Southside Works
  • 18th Street launch, Southside
  • Terminal Building, Southside
  • Station Square
  • Mon Wharf at Smithfield Street Bridge
  • Mon Wharf at Point State Park
  • Rivers Casino
  • Carnegie Science Center
  • Heinz Quay
  • Allegheny Landing (North Shore above Clemente Bridge)
  • Warhol Bridge at Three Rivers Heritage Trail
  • David L Lawrence Convention Center
  • Armstrong Cork Factory or Lock Wall One Marina

A round trip between all these landings is approximately 10 miles. Many of these landing are walking distance to desired locations for both commuters and visitors, and most are near bike rental stations allowing for even more connections.

2) A few other boats will deploy on an as-called basis, akin to a traditional taxi. Water taxis are limited to pre-defined landings, but will transport passengers directly from point A to point B, for a premium price compared to the taxis running the standard route.

In the same way that Kayak Pittsburgh’s dozens of yellow kayaks transformed the image of the rivers’ usability and Pittsburgh’s renewal, our water taxis will continue to demonstrate the on-demand accessibility and usefulness of the rivers for everyone everyday that makes everyone, users and spectators, proud to be in Pittsburgh.

Our inspirations include the following:

CityLab: if you provide good transit options, people will use them

New York City water taxi popularity

Victoria Water Taxi Ballet

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

Water taxis will provide a large variety of users, from residents to workers to visitors, with a larger scope and range of options at all points in their days, whether commuting, running errands, visiting cultural attractions, reaching meetings, or dining. Some examples include: • Residents in the Strip or on the Southside commute to their jobs in downtown. • Students at Point Park University travel to a Pirates game. • Downtown office workers go to the casino for lunch. • Guests at Southside Works hotels attend a conference at the Convention Center. • Downtown residents travel to the Strip to shop • UPMC workers at Station Square go the Warhol on their lunch break. • Visitors take an hour long taxi ride just to see the city and hear their captain’s stories.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

I am a successful local entrepreneur. My LinkedIn As the founder of Kayak Pittsburgh (45,000 kayak rentals in the 2017 season), I have experience on the rivers around downtown. My partner and brother, Mark, operates Pgh Water Limo, a successful dinner/tour boat company, also based in the downtown pool. We expect to partner with a local solar energy entrepreneur, who prefers to not be named publicly, who is well-versed in electric vehicles and solar power.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Funding Request

  • $100,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

For $100,000 we can deploy 5 or 6 boats for three months, train our captains, perform a large advertising (trad + social media) campaign, and equip all landing areas with appropriate safety and accessibility infrastructure. We will run trials to understand timings, logistics, and river idiosyncrasies. In short, get boats on the water, messaging out to the world, and provide excellent experiences to our passengers. This should be a viable for-profit business. Revenue sources include: • Paying passengers • Advertising revenue on boats and web site • Support from nearby Venues who sponsor a specific landing site • Private rentals of the water taxis for special events (wedding, family reunion, girls’ night out, et al) • Commissions from large local events (Arts Festival, Regatta, Pirates) to perform a multi-boat water ballet to music. • Sale of t-shirts, hats, travel mugs, etc. A full business plan is beyond the scope of this application but is clearly the next step.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

We would measure # of users overall; # of users per landing; average length of trip; numbers of passenger from/to each landing combination; multi-trip tickets purchased; advertising dollars generated; # captains hired and trained; requests from other locations to have nearby taxi landings; actual times to run the routes, depending on time of day, # passengers, river currents, weather, and specific captains. We will collect data on passengers: commuter/visitor, profession; age/gender; average size of group; zip code; how they knew about the water taxis; where else they’d like the boats to land. We will measure our captains’ experiences, satisfaction, and best practices. We will measure media exposure across social and traditional media. No one factor determines success, but together they allow us to deploy the boats to maximize advertising reach, attract passengers, create happy excited customers, and ultimately, grow revenue and then increase the fleet.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kit Durrett

Mike, I love the proposal idea. It is even better making it as green as possible. We need to make the city more river accessible and include all modes of transportation. The only thing I would add is including routes up the Allegheny River towards the 40th St bridge to Millvale and Lawrenceville and the boat could continue further towards upper Lawrenceville/Sharpsburg around the 62nd St bridge. It would be great for have boats go further up the Mononghela River to take advantage of the new development at the Hazelwood Green site.

Photo of Mike Schiller

Thanks, Kit. Terrific suggestions. We have a lot to figure out, yet, including where people would most want to get on/off the water taxis. I think all initial efforts need to stay in the downtown pool (not travel through any locks), but the question of how far up each rive to travel remains an open one. I reckon that once there is population density at Hazelwood Green, we would want to stop there. Part of the challenge is having a landing spot - the further up river you go, the fewer landing zones, public access spots, or any sort of river access you find. We'll be working to remedy this, as possible.

Plus, per your inermodal point - yes, we'd love to partner with CityBikes, Scoobi, some future scooter rentals, and the Port Authority to make sure that people can get from the water taxi landings to their inland destinations and back again in efficient ways. We would welcome your further thoughts on this....

Photo of Diana Avart

Mike, are there any points that you have identified as good prospective landing spots so far? I know there are healthy ride stations and T/bus stops near the river on either side of the baseball park along with Downtown near the Warhol bridge. I also imagine the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on the North Shore and Downtown would be full of scooters if/when we get them.

It might be helpful to establish how close together you intend landing spots to be - more like busway or T stops that cover more distance between stops or like regular bus stops, which are every few blocks?

- Diana, Facilitator

Photo of Mike Schiller

Hi, Diana. We do have a list of good identified landings. The main ones are included in our original proposal. We have refined that a bit and added more to our list in the last week. A lot of what we end up doing depends on the size and speed of the water taxis themselves and we are working through those options now. Basically, though, the closer we are to the point, the shorter the distances between landings; the further from town, the further the distances between landings. So, the North Shore across from town might have 4 stops, and Millvale would have one stop and Lawrenceville will have one. But our ridership and customer feedback will help to refine that and we remain open to serving the actual demand.

Photo of Diana Avart

Thanks, Mike. I overlooked that list the last time I was reading through the comments. Your explanation of the distance between the proposed spots is really helpful though and I am glad you are planning to refine the list based on customer/community feedback.

Also, you already have had some great dialogue happening in the comments of your proposal, but don't forget to keep sharing it using the Share buttons found at the end of the post as you make updates during the Refine phase! This will help to encourage the community to continue to vote and engage with your submission.

- Diana, Facilitator

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