Water Taxi Service Returns to Corpus Christi (Who Needs Venice?)

Tapping into the same urge that's lured tourists for centuries to the gondolas of Venice, Corpus Christi is getting back into the water taxi business. No word yet on whether there will be singing from the water taxi operators as they ply their trade from one side of Harbor Bridge to the other.

"This is a very simple operation, and it complements one that's in place with the city right now that moves tourists through a couple of the venues downtown," Director of Port Operations and Harbor Master Tony Alejandro told Hair Balls.

He said the concept is to move passengers from the south side of the ship channel across the water and to the north side of the channel -- or from the Texas State Aquarium to the Solomon P. Ortiz International Center, and vice versa.

"It basically provides connectivity between venues on the south side of the channel and the north side," Alejandro said.

The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority already has a functioning ferry, and officials expect the two transportation systems to work together. RTA Director of Marketing Jane Haas told Hair Balls that due to existing dock arrangements, ferry passengers could not debark at the Ortiz Center dock. The water taxi will fill that gap.

"We have it set up so that passengers can transfer between the [water taxi and ferry] at no additional cost to them," Haas said. "The idea is that they can move seamlessly between the vessels and therefore between the Bay Front venues and the North Beach venues." The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported that the Harbor Ferry docked at the Ortiz Center in the past, but passengers would complain about security asking for any pictures taken on the boat to be deleted. Alejandro told the Caller-Times that the area west of the Harbor Bridge is considered a heightened security zone.

There are some critics of the new operation.

"One of the best things about Corpus is the ride over the Harbor Bridge," username jakespoon53#722975 commented on the Caller-Times Web site. "Most all tourists come here by car. Most local people have cars, so why do we pay for this?"

According to Alejandro, the SEA District lobbied for the water taxi in the expectation that it would bring more people to their businesses. The SEA District agreed to pay for half the cost of the pilot, which the Caller-Times reported was estimated to be between $50,000 and $60,000.

According to Haas, the water taxi existed as the backup boat for the ferry last summer, in case of passenger overflow or if the ferry had mechanical problems.

Alejandro said it might be faster to travel across the bridge by car, but that's if you know where to go and where to park. "It's probably not as scenic," Alejandro said.

The RTA will weigh the popularity and practicality of the water taxi as it operates this summer to determine whether the service will run next year. Of the three days it has run so far this year, Haas said one day was cut short due to mechanical difficulties and another day was canceled by the Coast Guard due to inclement weather. In that time, the water taxi provided 498 passenger trips.

The water taxi operates weekends only from about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.. Tickets are $3, with discounts for children, students and seniors. For more information on the water taxi, visit www.ccrta.org.

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