September 8, 2008
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Waterborne Service Makes Waves
By Donna Aggazio Young, Special to Passenger Transport
Traditionally, waterborne transit has played a major role in the public transportation systems of other countries, but in the U.S. it has primarily been seen as an adjunct or stand-alone means of transportation. All that might be changing, however, if an organized group of waterborne transit operators has its way.
Waterborne transit has experienced substantial growth in the past decade; 47 waterborne transit operators in the U.S. currently provide an estimated 65 million trips annually. With land values at an all-time high, many communities have turned to this mode of transportation both to decrease congestion and to improve mobility. Nevertheless, connecting waterborne operations to other modes can present its own set of unique challenges. Further, because waterfront property is at a premium, the lack of available and affordable land in close proximity to ferry terminals can create complications for transit trips.
In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, ferry service has been a part of the region’s history since the 1800s. Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) operates ferries between Portsmouth and downtown Norfolk, connecting with existing bus service. In anticipation of light rail entering service in 2010, HRT plans to build a transfer center to connect ferry passengers with light rail in downtown Norfolk, according to HRT Vice President of Operations Michael Perry.
A newer waterborne service can be found on a river in Oklahoma City. In April 2008, Metro Transit, a division of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA), began its Oklahoma River Cruises along a seven-mile stretch of the Oklahoma River connecting the downtown to the airport. “We plan to expand the number of stops on the route and link to water taxis,” said Jeanne L. Smith, COTPA’s river transit manager.
Celia Kupersmith, chair of the APTA Waterborne Transit Operations Committee and general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District, offered some words of caution. “Waterborne transit is not a simple continuum of a land-based operation,” she said, adding that new operators should prepare for overwhelming popularity and start thinking big in terms of the planned service.
Larry Jacobs, transportation coordinator for the Government of Bermuda and chair of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Waterborne Committee, listed several examples of new technologies in waterborne transit.
• ATG Alster-Touristik GmbH in Hamburg, Germany, is preparing to introduce the 100-passenger “Zemship” (Zero Emission Ship), powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The company, which runs tourist excursions as a subsidiary of Hamburger Hochbahn AG, also has operated a solar-powered boat since 2000.
• As part of its effort to operate fossil fuel free by 2020, Stockholm, Sweden, is experimenting with biofuels to power ferries on inner-city waterways. The city owns a biofuels facility and already uses the fuel for its public transport buses.
• Another solar-powered boat, similar to the one in Hamburg, is the Solarshuttle that operates on the Serpentine lake in London’s Hyde Park. The boat collects energy from the sun with 27 curved glass modules; a specially designed system stores the energy in batteries, which power two silent electric motors.
• Regulations in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, call for all new canal boats to operate with zero emissions. The municipal transit company already operates fuel cell-powered boats, and is running a hydrogen-powered canal boat on a test basis.
Overseas projects that are “raising the bar” in new technologies can provide sought-after guidance to both emerging markets and older established systems, particularly in the U.S.
To address the full range of policy and operational issues and develop a comprehensive and proactive strategy for waterborne transit, APTA’s Executive Committee officially approved the formation of the Waterborne Transit Operations Committee as a permanent standing committee during the 2007 APTA Annual Meeting.
The creation of a new committee set an ambitious plan in motion to not only provide networking opportunities to share best practices, but also to build stronger lines of communication with federal regulatory agencies and develop standards and improve industry practices.
In its first year, the committee has become a clearinghouse through which APTA members made industry contacts and shared experiences of what it means to be a waterborne transit provider. “We are attempting to stretch boundaries for APTA members who never thought of waterborne service as mass transit,” said committee Chair Celia Kupersmith.
The committee has spearheaded a new TCRP project: “H-40: Guidelines for Ferry Transit Services—A National Overview.” Once it is completed, this project will detail what comprises a high quality ferry operation.
This exchange of information does not stop within U.S. borders, however. Another of the committee’s networking goal is the furtherance of sharing information on the use of technology and clean energy with the 10-year-old UITP Waterborne Committee—a move that will potentially benefit numerous systems in the U.S that share a common concern for fuel efficiency.
The Waterborne Transit Operations Committee will meet Tuesday, Oct. 7, during APTA’s Annual Meeting in San Diego. An educational session, “Transit Takes to the Water,” immediately follows the committee meeting.