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Water taxi service off to slow start

| Saturday, June 2, 2001, 12:00 p.m.


The Pittsburgh Water Taxi resembled a castaway raft Friday morning - one passenger rode the pontoon from Millvale to Downtown.

But skipper Ray McDonald and owner Wayne Dean remain optimistic the commuter service, introduced Tuesday, will make waves. This despite only four paying customers - just one a day - since its debut.

'It was horrible,' Dean said of the slow start. 'But it's a new product. It's just going to take a while. I have complete faith in it. If I didn't, I'd walk away right now.'

The pontoon, capable of holding 49 passengers, departed in a driving rainstorm from the Millvale Marina near the 40th Street Bridge at 8:15 a.m.

A Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter rode the ferry to time the trip to a dock beneath the 7th Street Bridge. It took 21 minutes. A second reporter, leaving the marina at the same time, clocked the drive to the 7th Street Bridge on Route 28. It took six minutes.

'We could make it in under 20 minutes,' McDonald said. 'I didn't push it.'


McDonald said the taxi service is not about saving time. It provides a less stressful commute - and a way to avoid traffic and the cost of parking Downtown, he said.

The boat ride 'is a relaxing trip in the morning,' McDonald said. 'You can sit in the cabin and drink coffee or read the newspaper instead of sitting in traffic with road rage.'

Aside from a drum beat of raindrops on the pontoon's tin roof, passage on the Allegheny River was smooth yesterday. A seagull pecked at a dead fish near the 31st Street Bridge. No other vessels cut through the water.

Etna resident Chris Scheib, yesterday's passenger, said he shaved time off his daily commute by riding the 47-foot pontoon. He sat on a green, vinyl-upholstered chair for the trip.

Because of bus delays and traffic, Scheib, 30, said it takes up to an hour to reach his job Downtown on a bus - compared to 30 minutes yesterday.


Scheib drove from home and parked - for free - at the Millvale Marina. That took five minutes. Twenty-one minutes on the ferry and a five-minute walk got him to his job at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield on Fifth Avenue.

'I figured I'd give it a shot and see how it worked,' said Scheib, who pronounced it a smooth ride. 'I'll probably ride it one or two days a week,' he said.

Dean said he may add a 6:30 a.m. run in an attempt to draw more passengers. With the round trip fare at $7, he said he needs 90 passengers a day to break even.

'I don't think the weather's been hot enough,' he said.

J.D. Fogarty, director of development the Port of Pittsburgh, believes the taxi service eventually will make money. Port of Pittsburgh's mission is to increase commercial and passenger traffic on the area's waterways.

'Pittsburgh is very slow in changing their modes on transportation,' Fogarty said. 'I think it will grow. People just have to get used to it.'

Gordon Ovenshine can be reached at govenshine@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7932.

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