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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:

https://www.victoriaharbourferry.com/

https://watertaxi.com/

http://berlinerwassertaxi.de/

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 profile:www.linkedin.com/in/mjschiller 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.

65 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Kit Durrett
Team

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
Team

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
Team

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
Team

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
Team

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

Photo of Mike Patterson
Team

I can't wait for this to become a reality. I would use this service at least 2-3 times/week, and I would definitely make it a go-to transportation choice for my out-of-town guests. I love showing off the city and touring South Side, Mt. Washington (via Incline), Station Square, North Shore, Strip District... and to do it without a car would be awesome! No better way to see the city and enjoy all that Pittsburgh has to offer!

Photo of Mike Schiller
Team

Thanks, Mike. We'd love to have you buy the monthly or season pass. Where would you likely be traveling from and to with the water taxis?

 And we hope you have LOTS of relatives that you want to bring to the water taxis to show off the city!

Photo of Sandy Adam
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Awesome idea!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Sandy. We look forward to giving you a water taxi ride someday!

Photo of Paula Leppert
Team

This is a great idea and a needed service for the Pittsburgh area.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Paula. We are hopeful and planning to make it work!

Photo of Michael Haley
Team

A well thought out proposal that has vision and highlights their experience on the local waterways. This appears to be the next chapter in their ongoing success story. Good luck Mike and Mark!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Michael Haley. We appreciate your kind words, and with your family roots in the 'burgh, we know that you have some perspective on this. We look forward to giving you and the family a ride when you next visit Pittsburgh again. Cheers!

Photo of Amy Madden
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I love and support the idea of actually using what is here. Let everybody know what Pittsburgh can offer! Don't understand why Pittsburgh is so far behind on this idea. Could solve quite a few transportation and parking problems. I definitely support this motion.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Amy. Pittsburgh shows itself really well from the river. With the right focus and the right fleet of water taxis, I think we can provide good value and catch up to our peer cities in this respect. Thanks for your support! -mike

Photo of Karen Jernigan
Team

Fantastic idea!!!!! We've used water taxis a lot of places, and would definitely use them in Pittsburgh!!!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Karen. We think tjat quite a few cities have shown how water taxis can be successful - we hope to blend together some best practices from multiple places and make a viable, fun service that provides good value to everyone. Hope to see you as a passenger!

Photo of Mike Schiller
Team

Mary Shaw asks me to post this for her, per her FB message:
Please, please design the boats to accept bicycles. One of the delights of biking the Danube was the bicycle (and pedestrian) ferries that got us back and forth across the river.

Mary included some photos from the Danube that I am unable to post here, but they are good images of the boats she used there.

Photo of Jeffrey Burd
Team

Pittsburgh's rivers remain the region's most underutilized assets. Almost 2,000 new residents are/will be moving into brand new apartments opened or opening between 2017 and 2020. All the commercial areas that connect to these new residential hotspots (Strip District, North Shore, South Side) are vibrant. What a great way to get around the heart of the city.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Jeff. As we go forward, we will need/want to engage w the developers to develop more access from the river side. A lot of the new residential by the rivers still has steep riverbanks and no easy way to access the water. Wouldn’t it be great if someone living at Three Crossings (for example) could walk 200 ft to water taxi landing?! From your perspective, who do you think i should approach first w this notion?

Thanks! -mike

Photo of Jeffrey Burd
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I guess I'd go to Riverlife to see what sort of assistance or obstacles they would be. I actually thought The Yards at 3 Crossings had a dock. Steve Guy from Oxford is a big supporter of transit options. They still have more development coming there. City Planning is probably an important stop. The new riverfront zoning ordinance is meant to allow zones for more riverfront access - seems like this kind of access would be encouraged. Of course, ordinance intentions and outcomes have been known to vary. If you can prove concept of the service, developers at riverfront parcels should want to give tenants access to another transit option. Creating the necessary landing/boarding station could also be a path to infrastructure grants.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Jeff. I had logged my input to the new riverfront zoning - the final plan did not really have much to say or offer re water landings, to our disappointment. Yes, we will reach out to Riverlife, Friends of the Riverfront, City Planning, the Downtown Partnership, the SEA, the URA, and others, to build some best ideas - some of these are on the selection committee anyway, I do believe. I met Steve Guy when I was with GBA, so I plan to reach out to him, also. Thanks for the good input! -mike

Photo of Michele Fanzo
Team

Yes! We need to activate our waterways more; they are our primary natural asset. I have seen water taxis significantly enliven other cities, like Copenhagen and Vancouver - and Pittsburgh is perfect for this.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Michelle. I agree, there are a bunch of ways to enliven our waterways, and it truly makes a difference. Check out this article from a German newspaper - it uses Kayak Pittsburgh to illustrate the rebirth and overall visitability of Pittsburgh to its German readership. https://www.sueddeutsche.de/reise/kajaktour-pittsburgh-nimmt-fahrt-auf-1.4164044 How cool it that? Water taxis will only add to this ongoing upgrade of Pittsburgh's image around the country and the globe!

Photo of Rich Hoerner
Team

What great way to utilize Pittsburgh's beautiful rivers and riverfront.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Rich. Hope to see you and the family on a taxi when you come back and visit Pittsburgh.

Photo of Adam Rossi
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Been dreaming this for awhile, I can't wait to see the EV Boat Fleet on our 3 Rivers!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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We will be needing your help, my friend. More solar panels where the taxis sleep; maybe solar on the boat roofs; certainly all lights, communications, direction finding powered by solar/electric. Let's talk about how we get sufficient power from EV drives to keep taxis on the river even when the water is high and moving faster than normal. Thanks for the support!

Photo of Joy Braunstein
Team

Awesome!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Joy. See you on the river!

Photo of Michael Romanello
Team

Hi Mike,
You may not be aware that D.C. now has a fast-growing water taxi service in operation. Small and larger boats provide scheduled and on-demand service between Alexandria, Georgetown, the Mall, the Wharf in Washington Harbor, Nationals Park baseball stadium, the new soccer stadium, and the National Harbor complex on the Maryland side of the Potomac. I think Pittsburgh's rivers make water taxis a natural fit here, not only for short runs between points within the City center, but also for longer scheduled runs.

Photo of Mike Schiller
Team

Thanks Michael. I knew that DC had some water taxis but I did not realize it was as extensive as you are explaining. I will explore further, thanks. The challengs in Pgh is the locks, of course; harder to travel beyond downtown pool w any reliability. I think there is huge opportunity in the downtown pool and then we can figure out a further reach. Have you ridden the DC water taxis? what did you like most? least?

Photo of Michael Romanello
Team

I certainly agree about the downtown potential...and I thought the locks might be a problem. Do not consider myself to be even approaching an expert on the DC water taxis. My experience is limited to a trip from Alexander to The Wharf which was an awesome ride, although definitely not cheap. However, if one factors in the cost of parking in the garage under the Wharf AND considers the trip up the Potomac and through the harbor to be part of the "event," it all becomes affordable, so to speak. :)

Photo of Mike Schiller
Team

Thanks, Michael. In my own experience, even the short trips we took in Victoria qualified as part of the "event." We mostly just needed transportation, the water taxi was the shortest route between two points, but we got the view, the fresh air and a story - making the trip more than transportation and really good value for the price. That's the goal here: great value for the price. Thanks for your thoughts!

Photo of Diana Avart
Team

Thanks all for the very positive feedback and exploration of this idea! The comments are really thought provoking and promote interesting ways to build upon the original idea.

- Diana, Facilitator

Photo of Ben Speiser
Team

Mike, I think this is a great idea to explore for Pittsburgh! I've enjoyed riding water taxis in Vancouver and Fort Lauderdale, and exploring other cities via the waterfront -- Chicago, Annapolis, and Barcelona are a few that come to mind. Being on the water offers a unique perspective on our city and shows off some of the natural beauty of our geography. Water taxis would also help keep people out of cars to reduce traffic congestion.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Ben. Yes! everything you said! We’ve been on many of the same taxis, and it’s time to bring these best ideas to Pittsburgh. Less congestion, happy riders, nice view, greater appreciation of our city by locals and visitors alike. And less effort than a kayak!

Photo of Laurie Evans
Team

Mike.... this is a great idea and a long time coming! I recall we discussed this some time ago a, and I am thrilled that you and Mark are pursuing. Best of luck! xo

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Laurie. Hope to see you and the family out on the water taxi next summer! See you soon.

Photo of Karl Thomas
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It's a wonderful proposal whose time is now. Thanks Schiller Brothers!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Karl. Maybe we should get a coffee, and we can talk about some of your experiences in purchasing boats? Cheers, Mike

Photo of Lucyna de Barbaro
Team

Hello Mike,
I would like to suggest to make this service truly fossil-free by using some of the startup fund for the solar panel charging station for the taxis. This is what we need to both kick the habit of fossil fuels and to inspire/influence others.
thanks,
Lucy

Photo of Mike Schiller
Team

Thanks, Lucy. I absolutely want to make these boats electric, if possible. Storing enough power to work in the currents and not sink the boat remains the challenge of our day. But yes, a lot of the boat can be driven by electric, and that energy created by solar panels at work both on the boat and at whatever location where the boats sleep. We are already working with one of the local solar providers for some advice, and we will definitely do everything we can to use solar with these boats. Perhaps we should talk more about the options, if you have some specific thoughts about how to approach this? Thanks, Mike

Photo of Desmond O'Connor
Team

Seems like it would make a lot of sense. Maybe consider partnering with Mike Moran of Scoobi to make both services more compelling and attractive to the target market. Ever more options for Pittsburghers and visitors. Great plan!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Des. I think partnering with folks like Scoobi is an excellent idea. Can you make an introduction for me to Mike Moran? I know we met his dad on the street in Aspinwall that one evening, but I don’t know Mike Moran directly. I would appreciate the lead. Thank you!

Photo of Matt Smuts
Team

Great idea! I’ve thought about this concept for a while. Glad to see someone moving towards implementation. The rivers are such an asset in our city and giving people a perspective from the river while also providing an environmentally friendly form of transportation will only cause more people to embrace and appreciate them.

Photo of Mike Schiller
Team

Thanks, Matt. And not just more appreciation for the city or for the rivers but also for the city itself. In the best of all worlds with this implementation you get a ride, you get a view, you get appreciation of the rivers, and you get some interesting stories from our pilots and captains that make the trip well worth the price! Thanks for your support.

Photo of Aaron Watson
Team

Love this idea. We need to take full advantage of our rivers!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Aaron. There are probably even more ways that we can take a good healthy advantage of our rivers, let’s get the water taxis started, and then add on from there! See you on the river.

Photo of Judith Albert
Team

Water taxis are the best thing that's happened to transportation in NYC in years. Every city with rivers should have them. In addition to all the enviro benefits -- being on the water makes people happy. And we need more happy people.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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thanks, Judy. We’ve seen successful and fun water taxis and lots of cities now, it seems like Pittsburgh arts to have one also. And yes, going back to my experiences with Venture Outdoors and Kayak Pittsburgh, getting outside, seeing the rivers, seeing a view of downtown Pittsburgh from water level, makes people happy. So, we get people where they want to go, and we help them be happy!

Photo of Bryan Perry
Team

Very compelling idea, Mike. Do you envision a March-November season, or year-round viability? I'd also be interested in knowing if riders could take their bikes on board, or jogging strollers. Other potential stops outside the 10-mile boundary but useful for commuters: end of the TRHT near Western Penitentiary, Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Rivers of Steel Pump House and Labyrinth.

Photo of Mike Schiller
Team

Thanks, Bryan. I think the additional locations that you mention are something we will need to explore as part of the pilot and afterwards. Other locations in the downtown pool seem much more likely, as any destinations that require a taxi to go through a lock Will be subject to delays and some amount of uncertainty based on other traffic locking through. But I would absolutely love to figure out how to deliver the option to get to Aspinwall and beyond. Thanks, and stay tuned!

Photo of Christopher Chambers
Team

Mike whatever you need if you when, from networking the boats and installing environmental sensors, overcapacity and fuel, to data analytics and security. You could even capture the data and Pittsburgh could offer (or sell new systems) to otter cities as best practices

Photo of Mike Schiller
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we should definitely talk offline, Chris. Sounds like we could have us a good partnership that would really help the biz, but also maybe develop into another revenue stream for the water taxis.

Photo of Rob Paxton
Team

Hello Mike, we have very similar things. I just wanted be sure that like in NJ to rent a boat, boating ID is required in my understanding of the law. And also for the water taxi driver themselves. I would enjoy a collaboration. As I have graphic arts, a boating certificate and wood building experience that could be of help. Please consider it .

Photo of Mike Schiller
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we'll absolutely consider it, Rob. Thanks for the interest!

Photo of Diana Avart
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Hi Mike,

Thanks for submitting this idea! It seems like your project team has just the right experience to pilot a project like this in the downtown area.

Don’t forget: If you need to make any additional edits or updates, you will need to do so before 4pm today.

- Diana, Facilitator

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, DIana. We look forward to hopefully being part of the next steps. -mike

Photo of Shane Baldwin
Team

The rivers are what made the the city and grew it; the rivers will save it. Simple and great idea!

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thanks, Shane. I agree - it's not just transportation, but all the technology that could evolve from living in a pretty water-secure region that could help transform Pittsburgh even further.

Photo of Christopher Chambers
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We have a startup Soteryx that could work with vendors to network the boats, collect data and analyze, protect it all thru internet of things tech; drones also networked could keep tabs on boats, conditions and passengers. Boats would of course have modems and routers so passengers could use WiFi or prep for 5G.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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We should talk, Chris. We'll need to collect a lot of data, I am sure Soteryx could help. Thanks.

Photo of Mike Staresinic
Team

Water taxis are much needed in Pittsburgh. Using freely available rivers is real growth in transit while reducing traffic congestion and re-orients our imaginations towards the water. I have a haiku that starts, "River mill river" for the river city (Lewis & Clark came here for their boat; loaded with steamboats on the Mon wharf, packet boats going down the Ohio), then a mill city, and is again becoming a river city. I'd love to hear people give directions, "5 bridges up the Mon." One time, at the old Manchester Bridge pier, a friend phoned from a couple hundred yards away within eyesight on Mt Washington. I had to drive 2.5 miles to reach the spot.

Photo of Mike Schiller
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Thank you for the support, Mike. We'd love to continue to activate the rivers. Getting more people out on the water can only help with making Pittsburgh cleaner and greener.