Water taxi service to link Old Town to Southwest D.C.

Water taxi service to link Old Town to Southwest D.C.

By Chris Teale (Courtesy image)

Old Town appears set for another water-based connection, as last week Entertainment Cruises announced a new line to the Southwest Waterfront in D.C., set to begin next year.

The route will connect The Wharf’s Transit Pier in D.C. with stops in Georgetown, Old Town and National Harbor along the Potomac River, and it could grow further in the future. Known as the Regional Water Taxi System, it is slated to begin operations in October.

Meanwhile, the city appears to have been saved from consideration as a terminus on the Northern Virginia Regional Commission’s proposed commuter ferry service, as NVRC officials have confirmed they are exploring other avenues.

During the peak season, which runs from Memorial Day until Labor Day, three water taxi routes will pick up 10 times a day at The Wharf. Off-peak seasons are March to May and September to December, with a minimum of four trips per day on boats that have a maximum capacity of around 100 people. The boats will not run in January or February.

According to the announcement, the trip on the Potomac River between Old Town and The Wharf will take around 20 minutes. The boats are designed to be efficient and environmentally friendly because they minimize the disturbance in the water and along shorelines. As yet, a price has not been settled upon.

“Our newly expanded partnership with The Wharf offers a refreshing way to experience our beautiful city, as well as a comfortable and convenient way to access Alexandria, National Harbor and Georgetown,” said Kenneth Svendsen, CEO of Entertainment Cruises, in a statement. “The Wharf is the perfect launch point for us to build on more than 30 years of service and excellence and create unforgettable memories for even more residents and guests. We look forward to growing with the community for years to come.”

Entertainment Cruises is the nation’s largest dining cruise company with a fleet of 38 vessels, and it acquired the locally owned Potomac Riverboat Company in May. PRC remains headquartered in Alexandria, and Willem Polak, who has operated PRC since 1974, remains CEO.

The Potomac Riverboat Company currently operates water taxi routes to National Harbor, Mount Vernon, Georgetown and the National Mall to and from Old Town, as well as sightseeing tours and dining cruises. Polak did not respond to requests for comment.

City spokesman Craig Fifer said in an email that Entertainment Cruises has not formally made a request to expand service to and from the waterfront, and that there are still some details to be ironed out.

“While the city’s operating agreement with the company effectively prohibits commuter service, we are supportive of a robust network of tourist and visitor connections to Alexandria,” Fifer said. “We look forward to evaluating any request for expansion once we receive it.”

The proposed service is the first step in what appears to be an ambitious plan to expand water taxi service across the region, according to Monty Hoffman, CEO of P.N. Hoffman, lead developer of The Wharf.

“We’re talking commuter routes. Maybe we’ll lobby for a stop at Reagan National Airport,” Hoffman told the Washington Business Journal. “I don’t know, it’s just in my nature to keep going.”

The new water taxi route comes hot on the heels of confirmation by NVRC officials that Alexandria will not be used as a terminus point in the commission’s proposed commuter ferry service. A study found last year that a service could be feasible from the waterfront to D.C., Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security.

But significant push back followed from city councilors, who raised concerns about the impact of traffic congestion from riders driving to and from the waterfront during peak hours.

City Councilor Del Pepper, who represents the city alongside City Councilor Willie Bailey on the NVRC, said at council’s November 9 meeting that after receiving a $173,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, the commission will undertake a “generic study” to analyze other routes and will exclude Alexandria.

Acting NVRC executive director Bob Lazaro confirmed the change in an interview last week.

“The staff takes direction from the full commission, but I think that the commission has heard clearly from Alexandria their concerns,” Lazaro said. “The staff will be proposing this alternative analysis for routes that would not include Alexandria.”

Instead, Lazaro said routes linking National Harbor, Woodbridge and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling will be examined, and that while no site has been chosen, Alexandrians need not worry.

“Clearly they have heard us with regards to Alexandria not being the starting-point for the ferry,” said City Manager Mark Jinks at council’s November 9 meeting. “A starting-point for any transit service usually means a lot of cars get brought to that starting point, and clearly along our waterfront we do not have that capacity.”