Water Taxis to the Navy Yard are already here

Water taxis have not been on my mind as a connection for the Navy Yard. Most Navy Yard transit discussion revolves around a multi-decade Broad Street Line extension. Water taxis were brought up in the UrbanPHL group by Jeff H. as an immediate solution and one that many other cities use. My first reaction was to brush this plan aside, as I presumed that capital costs for this service would make this plan impossible. However, once I started digging deeper, I had to change my position. This may be one of the most potent, realistic ideas for shovel ready service out of any transit plan. Rather than extensive capital costs, all components are already in place, fully funded, waiting to be put to use. If done right, there are no additional capital expenditures and all operating costs are fully funded.

The Fleet

Photo Courtesy of WilliamPennmanship

The fleet is composed of three new, underutilized water shuttles looking for a purpose. After a decade of sitting in a warehouse, The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) is the recent owner of three water taxis. Long story short, but in the early 2000's, the now defunct Penn's Landing Corporation purchased three of these custom made ships. Once the Penn's Landing plans and corporation went belly up, they were transferred to the DRPA. With no plans or money to build out the required docks, these water taxis sat in a warehouse for 10 years under DRPA ownership. They've now been transferred to the DRWC, who will now operate this service along with the larger RiverLink ferry. Federal funding was recently secured and docks were constructed along the waterfront, allowing them to be finally put to use.

Not familiar with these shuttles, their capabilities, and their cruising speed, I dug around the internet and eventually identified the spec sheet for these boats. They were manufactured by Bentz Manufacturing out of Idaho, who provide some details on their website for these boats and their other shuttles. The specs for the ship are no longer online, but fortunately, a Wayback search found the archived PDF.


The amenities for these boats are a perfect fit for a Navy Yard service, as they're fully heated and air-conditioned, allowing for year-round use. The boats seat 24 passengers, a good size to start a small shuttle service. With three shuttles and factoring in a few extra minutes for loading/unloading, these ships could provide 20 minute headways using the existing fleet.

The big question is how long a trip would take. The boat cruises at 14 knots (16.1mph) and a top speed of 20 knots (23 mph). The current RiverLink port at Penn's Landing to the Navy Yard is 5.84 miles. Averaging cruising speed, it'd take 22 minutes for a one-way trip. Express shuttle bus service ranges from 15-25 minutes, so it's a very comparable trip time. It should be noted that many water taxis can perform faster than this speed, so any future upgrades would decrease the trip time. 

The great news is these water taxis will see little to no use during Navy Yard business hours, allowing them to easily be put to use. The current intention for these water taxis is to supplement ferry service, particularly during BB&T [Susquehanna Bank] Center shows, according to Emma Fried-Cassorla, DWRPC spokesperson, in a Billy Penn article. The current concert listing for this year consists of weekend concerts and a few Friday evening shows that start at 7PM. Other than shuttles for concerts, it seems that the current intended use of these water taxis is for tourism, rather than for business. Therefore, during prime commuting hours, there will be little interest in using these water taxis, providing for a great dual use of this asset. Indeed, in reviewing other city's water taxis, most are put to use both for tourism and commuting.

The Stops

Using pre-existing stops, the time to implementation can be shortened and costs reduced. With a Federal Transit Fund grant, 3 additional docks were built along the Delaware:  Hilton Hotel at Penn’s Landing, Market Street and near Dave and Buster’s on Columbus Boulevard, in addition to the existing RiverLink stop at the base of Walnut St. Surveys or trials could be performed to identify the best potential location. With 4 docks to choose from, there is no shortage of origination docks.

For the Navy Yard stop, a pre-existing ferry dock can be utilized. This dock was used by the League Island Ferry Company to bring workers from New Jersey to the Navy Yard until the yard closed. This ferry stop, at the foot of Broad Street, is only a 30 second walk to Urban Outfitters headquarters. This strong connection to Urban Outfitters provides a great sponsorship opportunity.

For those whose offices are not right at the foot of the dock, an Indego station should be placed at the dock location. From this dock location, all core locations could be reached in 3 minutes by bike or 10 minutes walking, including the northernmost company, GSK. In addition, an Indego station should be placed at the Center City dock to facilitate simple trip transfers.

The Winners

The water taxi connection to the Navy Yard has significant value for all parties involved: The Navy Yard, DWRC, the corporate sponsor, and surrounding neighborhoods. For the Navy Yard, this connection provides a tangible connection to the river and Center City. It brings the riverfront component to the Navy Yard. Many enjoy ferry rides as a peaceful ride to reconnect with nature in an urban environment, much more so than the existing I-95 shuttle bus service. For DWRC, this venture opens up additional funding streams from corporate sponsors that would not otherwise be feasible, potentially making the water taxi service revenue neutral or even a revenue stream.

Navy Yard corporations should see this sponsorship opportunity as a chance to boost their brand for minimal cost. An obvious choice is Urban Outfitters, whose brand is based on a young, cosmopolitan image. Providing a direct connection to Center City in a glamorous boat service seems almost like a VIP perk. In addition, Urban could use this as marketing a connection to Old City, home to many designers and boutiques. The Courtyard Marriott based in the Navy Yard could sponsor weekend shuttle service as a way to boost their connection to Center City and draw weekend visitors, a time when the Navy Yard and Courtyard are surely near empty. Examples abound of corporate sponsorship for water shuttles, such as the water shuttle service that runs from Manhattan to Brooklyn's Ikea

Surrounding neighborhoods, such as Old City or the Waterfront, could strengthen their connection to a growing employment hub in the Navy Yard, employing over 10,000. With no current residential component in the Navy Yard and a potential Broad Street Line extension a decade or two away, these neighborhoods provide the best connection point to the Navy Yard.

This unique water shuttle service provides the chance for the Navy Yard to strengthen its brand, build up neighborhoods, and support the existing DWRC fleet. With the right corporate sponsorships, this service could be provided for free and come at no cost to DWRC. Everything is in place, it is now time to move the final pieces into place to make this service a reality.