Target 11 Investigates proposal to bring water taxis to Pittsburgh



PITTSBURGH - It’s an idea that’s been floated on the three rivers before, and it didn’t quite catch on. 

But Target 11 has uncovered a renewed effort to bring water taxis to Pittsburgh.

Investigator Rick Earle discovered that you may wind up paying for it even if you don’t use it. 

The plan is drawing sharp criticism form some.

“This absolutely isn't anything that taxpayers should be footing the bill for, these are things that are drowning Pennsylvania's in debt,” said Matthew Brouillette, the executive director of the Commonwealth Foundation

Target 11 found out that the federal government has set aside nearly $1 million to build a water taxi dock on the Mon River near the Southside Works. 

And there’s another half-million dollar matching grant that would go to a private company to help them establish the taxi service and purchase high-speed water taxis.  The private company who wins the bid would have to chip in a half-million dollars in order to get the federal grant. 

“The Port of Pittsburgh is not going to do the building until we have the contracts in place and I think that's smart.  We have to be careful how we spend tax dollars these days.  They are shrinking,” U.S congressman Mike Doyle (D-Forrest Hills) told Target 11.

With more places to dock along the river and high speed taxis, Doyle believes this mode of transportation could provide an alternative for commuters.

“I live in the eastern suburbs and I have to commute the Squirrel Hill tunnels all the time.  Any cars we can take out of that commute are something worth thinking about,” said Doyle.

“We also believe we can pick up where pat bus has started cutting routes,” said Pittsburgh Water Limo owner Mark Schiller, who has operated a private water shuttle for more than a decade without any government funding. 

Schiller has two boats.  One is a larger vessel he rents out for parties, and the other is a smaller boat that he uses to shuttle passengers to and from football and baseball games on the North shore. 

Schiller told Target 11 that he believers there’s room for expansion of the water taxi service.  Using high speed boats, Schiller said he could move commuters from communities such as Penn Hills and homestead to downtown in a matter of minutes.

“We can deliver people from those communities by boat in where trying to get a high speed vessel that will do it in ten minutes or less and you can't drive that route,” said Schiller, who said that water taxis in many other cities are subsidized by the government.

Under the proposal, water taxis would run from the Southside to the North shore, the casino, the Point and the convention center. 

Critics said it’s a risky venture that should involve tax dollars.

“Many times ridership projections are overestimated as is private sector participation in the funding and taxpayers are left holding the bag,” said Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union.

What do taxpayers think about paying for water taxis?

“Personally, I think it would be a great idea. All the walking we've done today trying to get back and forth,” said Tom Brown.

“It's not like we have the biggest city in the world where it would be such a necessity to get around.   So I guess I’d be opposed to it, I don't want to pay for something I’m not going to use,” said Kenny Morgan.