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Could ridesharing on the water work in Western Washington?

(Photo by Nathan Lindahl on Unsplash)

As we search for any way to improve our terrible traffic in Western Washington, we ask: is it time to bring back the Mosquito Fleet of boats that transported people all over Lake Washington and Puget Sound before we had freeways and bridges?

Before you laugh, the idea is gaining steam.

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We have ridesharing for cars. Why not boats? The idea came out of our discussion of the Kitsap Transit passenger ferry service recently. People asked whether a rideshare model might work on local waterways and Puget Sound.

At least one local company is considering it. Seco Development is working on a passenger-only service between its headquarters in Renton and South Lake Union. The company began talking about it late last year. The service would be open to the public, not just the company.

Similar modes of transportation are being tested elsewhere in the country and the world.

There is a French company that created what it calls Sea bubbles. They are small, two-to-six person electric boats with captains that plan to roam the waterways of Europe, using an on-call app. Creator Anders Bringdal told Bloomberg about the idea saying, “Every city is getting more and more crowded. You get traffic jams on land. Every city has been built, mostly, using the waterways whereas today they are kind of abandoned.” They debuted in Paris last year.

Uber has used limited boat service in Boston, Miami, and Baltimore. It is currently running a program in Croatia. However, the company says it has no plans to expand this to Seattle.

But could it work here? There is demand and plenty of boat owners in the region. Wouldn’t it be nice to hit your app in Lake Union and catch a boat to Kenmore for a small fare?

What’s standing in the way of ridesharing on the water?

Answer: the Coast Guard.

Commander Darwin Jensen, chief of prevention for Puget Sound, said you can’t just hop in your boat and start charging for rides.

“If somebody did do that and we heard about it, we would probably pay them a visit and give them a very good reason not to operate,” Commander Jensen said.

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Anyone considering this idea would need to jump through a lot of hoops to do it legally. You would need a uninspected passenger vessel license, which will cost you between $800-$1,300, plus your vessel registration. You would also need to complete a drug and alcohol testing program.

“There are some general requirements that all vessels that carry passengers have to meet, even if they’re just carrying one passenger for hire,” Commander Jensen said.

It’s incredibly cost prohibitive to go through all those hoops to make ridesharing on the water viable. Though Commander Jensen said the idea is interesting.

“It’s not a bad thing if people are properly licensed if they have a drug-testing program if their vessel is registered and if they’re in compliance with the regulations, we certainly don’t discourage somebody from operating,” he said.

So it doesn’t look like ridesharing on the water is viable, at least if boat owners want to do it legally. But with companies like Seco Development considering it, maybe other companies will jump on the bandwagon. Our region could certainly use some creative and innovative ways to get around.

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