Water taxis could face obstacles on Newport's harbor

Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill is pushing for the idea, but a similar service in the city lasted just one season in the mid-'90s.

February 22, 2014|By Emily Foxhall

The Newport Beach harbor has long attracted residents and visitors alike.

Beyond the allure of the water itself, ample opportunity for entertainment can be found along its shores. There is the Balboa Fun Zone with its iconic Ferris wheel, and a number of restaurants with fresh seafood dishes. Commercial businesses thrive, yacht clubs keep busy and bars fill with patrons.

What could be missing?

The city needs water taxis to connect the dots, maybe even electric ones, at least according to Mayor Rush Hill, who hopes soon to bring the idea to fruition.


The Newport Beach City Council will vote Tuesday whether to direct the Harbor Commission to form an ad-hoc committee to consider a pilot program that would test the idea of such a service in the harbor.

The commission would review the committee's finding and make a recommendation to the council accordingly. Up for determination are details like how many boats would be needed, whether electric boats would be preferred and whether they would run on a fixed loop or on demand.

"It's not going to be an easy subject, I don't think," said the city Harbor Resources Manager, Chris Miller. "It's going to take some time because it's a pretty big subject, and there's a lot involved."


Success and failure

Hill's idea is not a new one. Water taxis have found success in other cities, both in California and worldwide.

The WaterBus, a pontoon boat in Marina del Rey, circulates among eight stops on the weekends from late June through Sept 1. Long Beach's 68-foot AquaLink and 40-foot AquaBus ferry passengers among four and five locations, respectively, beginning in the early summer.

In Santa Barbara, a bright yellow boat called the Lil Toot carries people to and fro, in addition to offering daytime cruises.

Water taxis have also launched in Newport waters before.

Ralph Rodheim, who runs Balboa Boat Rentals, started the Harbor Hopper water taxi service in the summer of 1994, but the concept lasted only one season.

"We determined at that time there is a demand," he said. "It can work on a seasonal basis, but it definitely needed to be subsidized. It just wasn't economically feasible."

The start-up fees for the boats, slips and insurance paled in comparison with fares of just a few dollars, said Rodheim, who had recently returned from Sidney, Australia, where he said water taxis abounded.

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