Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Large Income Disparities in Alexandria — “White Alexandria is pulling in significantly more money than Hispanic workers and African Americans, according to numbers from the United States Census Bureau. A look at average income shows non-Hispanic whites make more than $85,000 a year. That’s more than three times the average income for Hispanic workers, $24,000, and more than twice the average income for black workers, $37,000.” [Gazette]

Water Taxi Returns to Old Town — “A face mask requirement and other safety measures are in place for the limited water taxi service.” [Patch]

Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden Hosting Juneteenth Trivia Night — “It’s long been on our calendar to celebrate Juneteenth – marking the legal end of slavery in the United States on June 19th, 1865 – with a trivia night that explores African American culture. We hope you’ll join us on Zoom this Friday night for this special evening! Tickets are FREE, but an optional donation will be split between us, Carlyle House Historic Park, and ALIVE. Pre-registration at our Eventbrite page is required.” [Facebook]

NVTA Recommends Full Funding for Duke Street Transitway — “The Duke Street Transitway was the City of Alexandria’s only request to the NVTA and the cost is estimated at $87 million. Alexandria received $12 million already, so this funding request is for the remaining $75 million.” [Alexandria Living]

North Potomac Yard Virtual Meeting at 7 p.m. — “The Virginia Tech Foundation and JBG SMITH is hosting virtual community meetings to provide information on the design of the proposed buildings and site-wide updates.” [City of Alexandria]

Casa Chirilagua Hosting Fundraiser Sunday — “Casa Chirilagua is a local community nonprofit serving the Central American Latinx community in City of Alexandria zip code 22305 – a hot spot for COVID-19. Because of the health and economic conditions, demand for Casa Chirilagua’s services has become enormous.” [Facebook]

‘Ascend Cycle’ Hosting Virtual Pride Ride — “A $15 minimum donation is requested for this event. 100% of proceeds will be donated. Sign up for the ride online and we’ll text you the Zoom code before class!” [Facebook]

YMCA Reopens in Del Ray — “Your local YMCA at 420 East Monroe Avenue is back in business. It opened for the first time in months this past Monday, June 15, along with the Arlington location. The Y is following a phased approach to reopening so you will see differences when you visit.” [Zebra]

New Job: Assistant Center Manager — “Mathnasium is a highly dynamic and fast-paced and is known for the great care we take with our students and employees alike… We’re looking for an Assistant Center Manager to assist at both our Alexandria City and Mount Vernon centers. The pay range we’re offering is $16-$18/hour depending on center performance.” [Indeed]

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The Alexandria City Council has unanimously approved a license agreement to allow Potomac Riverboat Company’s water taxi to ferry commuters from the waterfront to the District Wharf in D.C.

The daily water taxi service, which begins on March 1, was first introduced to Alexandria during last summer’s Metro shutdown, and commuters will start sailing at 6 a.m.

“I’m glad we’re doing this,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “I look forward to personally doing it. It works out really well on council meeting days, because I can leave my car here (at City Hall) and take my boat from my day job directly here.”

Potomac Riverboat Company increased its water taxi fleet last April with the addition of four new yellow boats. It also runs the Cherry Blossom, Matthew Hayes, and other named vessels. A commuter pass valid from March 1 to Dec. 31 costs $295, and a round-trip ticket costs $10.

City staff maintain that water taxi commuters will not create parking issues in Old Town — a sticking point for Councilwoman Del Pepper.

“The more ways we can find to get people off our cement streets the better,” Pepper said. “I have for about a decade opposed this, and the reason has been because of concern that our streets and our parking lots would all be filled with people getting to this destination (the waterfront). I’m going to support it with the caveat that I hope staff will be following this, and if this becomes a problem for the neighbors, I want it brought back for discussion.”

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Interested in sailing to work? During last summer’s Metro Shutdown, Alexandria eased restrictions allowing for the Potomac Riverboat Company’s water taxi to ferry commuters from the city’s waterfront to the District Wharf.

Tonight, the city council will receive a report on extending the license agreement to allow for early morning water taxi commuting services to continue.

The agreement, which would allow for the water taxi to start running as early as 6:30 a.m., was “nearly unanimously” endorsed by the Waterfront Commission, according to a Dec. 31 letter submitted in the staff presentation to council.

The letter also said that there should be minimal parking impacts in Old Town.

Specifically, staff found that 85% of commuters surveyed said they either walked or biked to the water taxi, and 90% of these commuters were former Metrorail riders,” Waterfront Commission Chair Stephen Thayer wrote. “Staff noted these former Metrorail riders did not stop riding Metrorail altogether, but simply boarded Metrorail at L’Enfant Plaza, which is a short shuttle bus ride away from the District’s Wharf.”

The Commission is also asking the city to consider a water taxi user reimbursement program. During the summer shutdown the daily $10 commuter round trip was reduced 80% with the reimbursement.

Potomac Riverboat Company operates four water taxis, in addition to the Cherry Blossom, Matthew Hayes, and other named vessels.

The Council will decide on the matter at a public hearing on Feb. 22.

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(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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The World Series wasn’t just a win for the Nats — it was also a boon for Alexandria’s water taxis.

The aquatic commute route was hailed as a “super-secret” way to dodge World Series crowds, and company officials said hundreds did ferry their way to Navy Yard — capping a season of growth for the service.

“During the recent World Series weekend, we operated three special ‘Baseball Boats’ between Alexandria City Marina and Diamond Teague carrying around 450 people to each home game,” said Nicola McShane, a spokeswoman for the Potomac Riverboat Company’s parent company, Hornblower Cruises and Events.

Water taxi tickets for the home games from Alexandria sold out last Saturday, October 26, though the company was still selling some from the Wharf.

In March, the Potomac Riverboat Company, which runs the water taxis, announced it would run river trips during all home games for the Nats and D.C. United, reported Patch.

The company also added four new boats to its fleet, which helped add seven trips between 6:40-9:20 a.m. on weekdays in preparation for the Metro’s station repair projects that shuttered multiple stations this summer.

But in August after the shutdown ended, Mayor Justin Wilson announced the service was so popular the city was asking the Riverboat company to continue running extended service through the end of the year, and is due to vote on loosening regulations next year to make the new scheduled permanent.

“I am optimistic that this success will provide an opening to make the use of our water as a viable commuting option, a permanent feature for our community,” said the mayor.

The ridership bump may have been in part because the City of Alexandria offered to reimburse water taxi commuters for their fares. In total, the city spent $28,214 reimbursing the fares with $5,642  from the city’s budget, and the rest from a state transportation grant, according to Sarah Godfrey, spokesman for the Department of Transportation & Environmental Services.

But commuters also praised the taxis’ fresh air, food and drinks, and lack of crowds when traveling on the Potomac (though the river poses its own risks.)

Perhaps surprisingly in Old Town, where parking issues run rampant, Godfrey noted the city did not receive any parking complaints this summer as more people than ever boarded the water taxis.

“We do not collect parking data directly, but both [Potomac Riverboat Company] and our own survey of those seeking reimbursement suggests most users walk to the water taxi,” she told ALXnow. “In fact, 78 percent of those who sought our reimbursement either walked or biked to the water taxi.”

The total ridership for 2018 was “over 250,000”, according to the CEO Kenneth Svendsen, who previously told Patch it was the company’s “best-ever performance to date.”

McShane declined to share the company’s overall 2019 ridership numbers with ALXnow, but noted that “we have seen a significant increase in guests using our services to navigate and explore the wider metropolitan area when compared to last year. This demonstrates there is a real, and growing appetite for water taxi transport.”

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