Water Taxi Funding to Come Back to BOCC

Dawn Kitterman
BRADENTON — The Manatee County Tourist Development Council has approved a funding recommendation of $950,000 for the construction of two pontoon ferry boats for the future Manatee County water taxi service.

In early October, Manatee County Commissioners approved an initial $700,000 for the design and build of two pontoon boats for the county's future water taxi service. On November 4, Executive Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau Elliott Falcione sought a recommendation from the Tourist Development Council for the pontoons’ construction funding of up to $950,000. Falcione explained to TDC members that although costs may ultimately come under the requested amount, approval from the BOCC will provide room for any higher than anticipated costs for the construction of the two pontoon boats. 

A Florida-based boat builder will be contracted by the county to build the two 50ft, 49-50 passenger pontoon vessels. The boats will provide both residents and tourists with water taxi service from the mainland to the island. A timeline for the vessels’ completed construction is unknown, however, due to the possibility of supply chain delays.  

Manatee County would own the pontoon boats but would have the vessels managed and operated by a Clearwater-based ferry company. Although a contract has not yet been signed, Falcione stated the county was "on the cusp" of an agreement with Clearwater Ferry, a ferry company that has been doing business in Clearwater since 2015. 

The county attorney's office was still working on draft interlocal agreements for the three cities of Bradenton, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria as of the November 4 TDC meeting, but Falcione said those drafts were expected to be completed in the near future. 

While an exact launch date for the water taxi service has not yet been set, the county anticipates the water taxi will initially begin running on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 10:30 am- 9:30 pm. A one-way pass is projected to be $8 per adult, with an all-day "hopper pass" running about $10. Children and Seniors will have reduced rates. 

Falcione told TDC members that the county is open to the possibility of running the ferries for more days than are currently planned, even daily, depending on demand.

The urban core will provide the day dock for the vessels in the city of Bradenton just east of the Green Bridge. The boats will dock each night, at the Twin Dolphin Marina on the west side of the Green Bridge. The water taxis will travel from Bradenton’s downtown riverfront out to Anna Maria Island’s City Pier, then to Anna Maria’s Bridge Street Pier, before sailing south to its last stop at the Coquina boat launch, before venturing a route back along the same stopping points on its return loop to the mainland. The two pontoons will run concurrently. 

The county is also working with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to survey the hospitality industry to calculate the best way to utilize the water taxi for the island’s hospitality and service workers. The county intends to explore whether a service slot in the water taxi’s schedule dedicated to delivering employees from the mainland to the island—and back—might provide the benefit of decreased causeway and bridge vehicular traffic. Falcione suggested the county may even consider a free taxi service specifically to encourage employees to utilize the ferries. 

The county is exploring several other funding sources to support the service but has identified tourism tax revenue and anticipated revenues from the county's operation of the Coquina Beach Market, as consistent funding sources. Once the water taxi service has been up and running for about a year, the county could also potentially qualify for state or federal grant money, Falcione said.

The TDC’s recommendation of "up to" $950,000 of tourist bed-tax money for the construction of the pontoon vessels will now go before the county commission for approval.

Reader Comments
Capt Colin
NOV 14, 2022  •  seems too cheap and too far for daily excursions
Tony Trenton
NOV 13, 2022  •  John Giordano I am not sure that the Water Taxi is a good idea but with that aside. Between the initial cost of the boats, operating costs insurance salaries, fuel, maintenance etc. has anyone figured how long it would take to just cover the initial set up cost of $1,000,000 + or future operating cost vs ridership? Remember it is only being run on weekends? Having it operate from the Day Dock in my opinion is not the place. Why have it based in a residential area block from our Downtown businesses? Most cities I have visited have its ferry, water taxi located in commercial business area near restaurants, shop, bars etc. There is no public parking available in the immediate area, no rest room facilities, no real gathering area or area to wait for the next taxi for the users other than to block the Riverwalk or trample on the Great Lawn. With the intended sale of City Hall and re-development of the that area I would have considered the the existing Marina, nearer downtown, Museum, City parking garage and much more foot traffic. As a second choice the existing Fishing Pier (no one uses it) would be more suited for the operation of the Water Taxi although still far from the downtown there is adequate parking in the large lot behind the Family Fun Zone near the Theater, there are bathroom facilities as well as a covered portico area for uses to wait under in the large service building already at the Fun Zone. If I am not mistaken a small area in the building facing the river has a roll up window that could be used by the Water Taxi as an office....information, refreshment sales, tickets etc. Good luck!
NOV 13, 2022  •  If this intended to entice tourists who are going to the beach, good luck. Ever see what many have in chairs, coolers ,shade set ups etc etc. What about families, park unload gear, reload on ferry, unload at pier, drag to beach, repeat on way home after tiring day on beach. Contract with existing site seeing pontoon equipped company for a year to see if it works and not end up with a million dollars of pontoon boats sitting at a storage pier. Pay the company for a full boat each trip so they survive and even if it costs a million to them, it will provide much needed input to then maybe go into the boat ferry service. Sure BOCC must know someone they can work with or ask Carlos.
NOV 13, 2022  •  FYI, "City Pier" is the city of Anna Maria and "Bridge Street Pier," while on Anna Maria Island is in Bradenton Beach, not the city of Anna Maria.
NOV 13, 2022  •  Why would the county pay a million dollars to run this? Why not put it out to bid and take the best offer and save taxpayers nearly a million dollars ?
NOV 13, 2022  •  They're all for private enterprise, until it comes to their pet projects, like the Coquina Beach market or this debacle. Can we have wider safer bike lanes, won't cost that much and will move more people where they actually want to go. Electric bikes are making it possible for everyone.
Andre Gurses
NOV 13, 2022  •  Wonderful idea, and I'd love to GO. Two questions: (1) WHERE would be, and ENOUGH, FREE/$10 PARKING around Green Bridge (9th Street is better name), and for BOAT lovers who would love the return trip for $10. would there be any restroom on boat? I guess NOT.
Glen Gibellina
NOV 13, 2022  •  This could be an alternative for hospitality employees to get to work and back, in addition perhaps some costs the employer would like to contribute. For this to work the ferry's must have hospitality workforce hours of operation, not just the tourist timelines. Would need bus routes to connect and additional parking space to be included if you really want to make a difference in transporting workforce folks to the islands. Just my 2 cents...For the Record