Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Next: The Under Armour Water Taxi

Right in the middle of all the Council deliberations of the unprecedented sagamore TIF request for Port Covington comes another piece of news from Under Armour: They plan to buy out the current water taxi operator, Michael McDaniel of Harbor Boating ("Current operator will continue as partner") and have submitted a bid to the City for a renewal of the water taxi license. which was due April 1 of this year and is on the agenda of the Board of Estimates today. There is one other bid for the City to review submitted by Ferries Inc. of Washington State where a number of ferries are operated on Puget Sound. The RFP included a five year license duration, Sagamore is now talking about a 20 or 30 year term they are seeking.
This image has been circulated showing a photo-montage
 of the anticipated new taxi boat

Some Baltimoreans and maybe even some share-holders may freak out about the prospect of Under Armour taking on another piece of Baltimore into their already pretty broad portfolio after they took on the Recreation Pier in Fells Point, Walmart at Port Covington and put company operations into the remodeled building, build a whiskey distillery near the Baltimore SUN printing facility, bought City Garage, bought into the maker company Foundery and have their own production experiment going on in there (the Lighthouse) and brother Scott Plank and his Wahorse Development LLC have also their hands in College Park near Kevin Plan's alma mater.
A Baltimore SUN map showing the old and new landing points (blue is new)

One should take a closer look at the water taxi deal and what is known about it to date. It looks  as if with UA's help a few long-term objectives transit advocates promoted for the water taxi could come quickly into reach, namely to make it a much more robust, year round viable transit option.

Earlier this year I criticized City DOT for writing an RFP that aimed for nothing more than the status quo for the water taxi service and which separated and differentiated artificially and uneconomically between the free commuter service (Harbor Connector) and the water taxi for tourists and bemoaned that both use those flimsy boats that are not very seaworthy and impractical in winter.
Instead of starting a new age in Baltimore's water transit that could really be calledpassenger ferry service, the RFP was simply dealing with the fact that the license for the water taxi services needs to be renewed from time to time. The RFP asks to provide the exact service we see today. Same vessels, same landings, same routes, same frequency and the same confusing distinction between Harbor Connector and Water Taxi. (Blog)
If everything goes the way it was announced in a Plank Industries press release today, the most exciting news is maybe that the UA boats (the water taxi would be an operation of Sagamore Development which is part of Plank Industries, which in turn are an arm of Under Armour) will be built in Baltimore, and apparently really fast. The press release says this:
custom-built in Baltimore by MAPC, a maritime design and manufacturing company located near the South Baltimore neighborhood of Brooklyn the company will hire 30 new welders and craftsmen thanks to this deal. The 55-foot ADA-compliant, bike-friendly vessel is modeled on the classic Chesapeake Bay deadrise boat, featuring an electric/hybrid diesel engine with 1/20th of the carbon footprint of the current fleet.
A photo of a study model for a ferry that is taken from the MAPC website
Getting rid of the canvas clad ponton boats that look like a mix of a backyard patio enclosure and a tent and which are susceptible to tipping over in strong winds, would be a great step towards real water transportation. MAPC is probably a new entity for most in Baltimore, but that just shows that we should pay more attention to what happens under our nose.

The employee owned company says about itself on its own website:
Since Mark Rice founded the company in 1986, MAPC has worked at-sea, in desert environments, in mountainous environments, in the air, on live-fire ranges, in foreign facilities, and in simulated warfare environments...[..our partners are] the US Navy, US Air Force, US Coast Guard, DARPA, Bath Iron Works, Northrup Grumman, Thales, Booz Allen Hamilton, AAI Textron, Alion Science and Technology, Oceaneering,
The DOT RFP also didn't include a network overhaul. With Sagamore at the wheel, one can be sure that the network will be expanded to included the Middle Branch and probably also Canton Crossing and Harbor Point, two large developments the City didn't bother to include in their RFP as must serve docking places. Sagamore says that the final line maps are still in development but stated that the number of stops will increase from 12 to 21.

Another item I had suggested on this blog, is better integration of the water taxi with land side transit, especially the Circulator and that the stops would become actual intermodal stations with some amenities and in the case of Canton Crossing also substantial park and ride parking. Those details are not available at this time except that the Water Taxi will be integrated with the Uber app so that the boats and their location/arrival times can be seen in real time. Not bad!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

related Water Taxi articles on this blog:

How to achieve real passenger ferry services (5/2/16)
Can Baltimore's Water Taxi System Become Viable Transit? 9/9/15
Water Taxi - Transportation Between Uber and Bus 7/25/14

News on the Plank Taxi:
Baltimore SUN
BBJ


From my 5/2/16 blog a few of the suggestions I made then about a better Water Taxi:

  • The City should express an aspiration to provide robust rear-round water transit service with expanded hours, expanded service points and routes and better vessels like those being used in New York or Chicago
  • A scope should only be defined as a minimum baseline service for price comparison but bidders should be allowed flexibility to provide alternative service scenarios and business plans to expand the operation
  • The three large developments at HarborPoint, Canton Crossing and Port Covington need to be included as mandatory service points. 
    Partial Port Covington plan showing water taxi piers. (Graphic: Sagamore)
    The current water taxi does not serve the Middle Branch and is too slow
    to do it effectively
  • The City should analyze to which extent water transit can pick up some of the transit deficits in the eastern portion of the city where roads are routinely clogged and the cancellation of the Red Line further exacerbated the problem. 
  • The construction of the Red Line Park and Ride facility at Canton Crossing should move forward as a ferry terminal parking lot with frequent service from Canton Crossing
  • The RFP assumption that the commuter and the visitor services should be delineated and separate should be questioned as likely inefficient and costly. (The City currently pays the provider twice as much for the sparse free Connector service than it takes in from all Water Taxi license fees combined). 
  • Instead all water transit should be one system with a electronic fare card based on the Charm Card system that allows commuters to use the system for free as the City committed to do in return for certain federal grants. 
  • All other fares should be also Charm Card based and include demand based pricing, likely resulting in better fleet utilization and higher passenger volumes during inclement weather than the currently fixed high price tourist fares. (applying a demand based fare structure is common for airlines, but also for Amtrak and transit such as WMATA in DC)
  • The city shouldn't be in the business of owning vessels, even if they are new technology like an electric boat that the City apparently will get through federal dollars. If City owned vessels can't be sold due to federal obilagtions, they should be leased to the provider with all responsibilities handled by the provider)
  • Requirements for intermodal coordination with the Circulator, MTA, bike share and tour buses should be included as mandatory
  • Land-side facilities should be drastically improved until they deserve the term "terminals".