Water Taxi makes waves
It began with a fleet of just three boats, almost no funding and one Brooklyn boy’s East River pipe dream.
But on the heels of its fifth anniversary, Red Hook-based New York Water Taxi has grown to include nine vessels, 12 stops, state-subsidized funding and, later this year perhaps, a major multimillion dollar expansion.
Also this year, the company is on target to reach 1 million passengers annually, a high-water mark that could finally lift it out of debt, said Tom Fox, president of New York Water Taxi.
Not bad for a kid from landlocked Flatbush.
“Every year is another turn around the wheel,” said Fox, an avid cyclist. “You tighten the spokes here, you put a little weight there and every turn gets truer and truer. We’re just hitting our stride.”
Fox, a Vietnam vet and former repo man, began his quest to put commuter water taxis on the East and Hudson rivers more than a decade ago after realizing the vast amount of abandoned waterfront property that existed in the city.
“After 10 years of working on waterfront parks, it became abundantly clear that the harbor was an incredibly underused resource and the only way to connect everything that was happening on the waterfront,” said Fox, who in 1986 was appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo to the West Side Task Force – a group charged with developing the West Side of Manhattan.
After the first incarnation of the water-taxi business tanked in 1997, Fox went back to the drawing board, writing up a more detailed business model and convincing mega-developer Douglas Durst to invest $2 million.
Over the past five years, that $2 million has ballooned to a whopping $25 million investment from Durst and has helped pay for ecologically friendly $1.8 million taxis.
With new stops in Williamsburg, Red Hook and another expected near the Brooklyn Bridge at Joralemon St., Fox expects ridership to finally float the venture out of the red.
Fox and Durst also plan to expand their partnership to the Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, where they have proposed building a $100 million commercial marina and shipyard over 15acres – a first for Brooklyn.
“It’s a lot easier walking around town with 2 million [dollars] in your pocket and Douglas Durst as your backer,” said Fox, who called Durst “the only developer I know with both resources and manners.”
For his part, Durst, a man of few public words, said he takes a ride on the taxis once a week.
“I ride as often as I can, but not as often as I’d like to,” said Durst. “But I’m real proud of it, and proud of Tom, that much I can say.”
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