Alexandria, VA

(Updated 11/20) This summer’s Metro shutdown could wind up netting the Potomac Riverboat Company a goal the company has been after for years: permanent early-morning service for its water taxi.

The company’s lease currently prohibits boats from coming in or out of docks before 9:30 a.m., which staff told the Waterfront Commission this morning (Tuesday) means the boats are usually used by tourists. But during the Metro shutdown, the city waived that restriction.

“The water taxi was well used,” staff said. “Most of the new users were Metro riders. They had up to 997 boardings a week [in June] and averaged 600 during the rest of the shutdown.”

During the shutdown, the city offered a reimbursement program that included $100 for a seasonal pass and $8 for round trip tickets. Current prices post Metro shutdown are notably pricier: $195 for an unlimited annual pass and $18 for a round trip pass.

The city previously required Potomac Riverboat Company to implement a parking plan for commuter parking, but 85 percent of the new riders biked or walked to the water taxi and the city reported there were no parking complaints or capacity issues related it.

Now, the staff said City Manager Mark Jinks has expressed interest in asking the council for an extension of the hours in the lease to allow operations to begin “before 6:30 a.m.” and to promote the water taxi as an alternative to driving.

“This is great,” said Waterfront Commission member Nathan Macek, also chair of the Planning Commission. “I’m happy to see it move forward. I think we’ve had an irrational fear [of utilizing the waterfront] and this pilot helped.”

The conversation also spurred discussion of a waterfront taxi that would connect with Prince William County and Fort Belvoir, along with locations further upriver like the Pentagon. Charlotte Hall, a member of the Waterfront Commission, said a company is looking at building a water taxi network up the western side of the Potomac River sometime in 2020 but would likely skip Alexandria in at least the first year of operation.

“Alexandria is not ready for this in 2020,” Hall said, “but others are.”

“We’re so restrictive on our lease covenants with when the boats can come and go,” said Macek. “I think the city contracts need to be less specific about that. Let boats come and go as they please, and I don’t think the city needs to regulate the boat spaces as strictly as they do.”

There was only one note of light dissent on the Waterfront Commission when Beth Gross, a representative on the Commission from the Founders Park Community Association, said the idea of boats coming and going from the docks like planes coming and going from the airport made her “a little worried.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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