Water Taxi – Downtown Sarasota Transportation Solutions

The Sarasota City Commission recently voted to conditionally approve a permit for a water taxi and ferry service between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat Tours, presented the water taxi and ferry plan and applied for a permit under Paradise’s parent company, TevaTan LLC, in early January. On Tuesday, the commission voted to approve the permit application with the following stipulations:

  • The water ferry’s Sarasota embarkation points will be determined within a period of six months from Tuesday; and
  • Baldwin will meet with Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, a long-term planning organization, to assure the Sarasota embarkation points have enough associated parking nearby.

Baldwin’s permit application was two-fold; to allow for a scheduled water ferry service as well as an “Uber-like” water taxi, on call via a mobile app that Baldwin said his company spent “thousands” developing.

Starting the water ferry service with the Bradenton Beach-Sarasota route made the most logistical sense, Baldwin said. “If we have one successful leg, it will make it really easy to justify the risk.”  “There’s a navigational plus to it, too; it’s kind of a straight shot. From the Bridge Street Pier, you can see downtown Sarasota.”

Come fall, Baldwin wants to start more water transport service that would ferry passengers between the downtown Bradenton Riverwalk, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Baldwin is also involved in “informal conversations” to help orchestrate a water taxi service in association with the Bradenton Area Convention Center hotel, which is set to break ground on Sept. 18.

Planned Operation
The ferry will run from the Bridge Street Pier to one of three embarkation points in Sarasota. Baldwin provided three suggested points to the Sarasota City Commission, which has the ultimate say in which of the three will be chosen. The possible destinations include the T-dock at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, the Marina Jack boat basin, or the Centennial Park boat basin. He favors the Centennial Park option, but for it to work, a sublease must be negotiated under the current lease between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 84 and the city of Sarasota.

The water taxi service will operate daily at a round-trip ticket cost of $12.50, with passes available for locals who frequently travel between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. The boat will have air conditioning and heating systems, two restrooms and a small coffee cafe. The seating will be covered, but Baldwin said there will be an outside area for passengers who want to enjoy the sea breeze.

“We don’t have plans right out of the gate to serve alcohol,” Baldwin said, but passengers are allowed to bring their own beverages and food on board.

Paradise Boat Tours
Paradise Boat Tours will celebrate its fifth year in business in June. Baldwin estimates they serve 20,000 passengers per year on 90-minute narrated dolphin-spotting and sightseeing tours.

In an email to the Sarasota City Commission, Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said TevaTan is “fully authorized to use the Bridge Street Pier, Bradenton Beach as an embarkation point for his Ferry Service.” The Manatee County Tourist Development Council also submitted a letter to the Sarasota City Commission supporting the water taxi.

John Horne, CEO of AMOB on the Pier restaurant, located on Bridge Street, said he’s “proud of what Sherman’s doing.”  “The county has already come up with a free trolley on the island so if we can get people there by water we will have less vehicles on the island and it cuts the traffic down,” Horne said. “I think it’s great to be able to connect Manatee and Sarasota and what better way to do it then across Sarasota Bay.”

Bradenton Herald, February 21, 2017