Landside traffic congestion has motivated New York, San Francisco and Florida cities to seek ways to move more people by water. Now a pair of New Jersey Shore resorts are looking at reviving their ferry service after 140 years.
Capt. Tom Masterson of LBI Boat Tours, Beach Haven, N.J., took the first passengers out Sunday for test runs of a water taxi service between the non-profit Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum on the mainland to Beach Haven on Long Beach Island, a major summer destination for the Philadelphia and New York metro regions.
“I think this is a no-brainer in terms of logic and convenience,” said Masterson, who has worked on the water for 35 years and runs his 290 Pilot Everglades center console Fishful Thinking charter boat out of Morrison’s Marina in Beach Haven.
Founded in 1873 and settled by wealthy Philadelphians, Beach Haven was reached by railroad to the fishing village of Tuckerton, then by sailboats or the steam ferries Barclay and Pohatcong crossing Little Egg Harbor to the island. In 1885 direct rail service to Beach Haven eventually cut out the boat operators, followed by highways in 20th century.
Today, even with a new bridge crossing the bay, car travel to either end of the 18-mile long barrier island is an ordeal in summer traffic. It’s not unlike Sarasota on Florida’s Gulf coast, where increasingly desperate congestion has local officials looking for more ferries and water taxis – and entrepreneurs ready to jump in.
Long Beach Island operators tried boat service to Beach Haven in years past, with varying success. Now, response to the new offering of a water taxi shows the route may be viable, said Brooke Salvanto, museum director at the Tuckerton Seaport.
The Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce has a program to revitalize the business districts in both towns. Part of that has been facilitating water taxi discussions between municipal officials and the Ocean County Planning Department.
“Florida has some models we’ve been looking at,” said Lori Pepenella, the chamber CEO. “It was clear that both towns wanted this water taxi.”
In the first test, 24 free seats on four runs were quickly snapped up, and more experimental offerings are planned for weekend events in September. Based on positive feedback from those riders, Pepenella said the group will move forward with plans for a regular, paid service route in 2018.
“For 10 years they’ve been talking about a water taxi. We decided we would pilot it during Seaport events,” said Salvanto. “When we put it out on Facebook, we had over 100 calls in the first hour.”
The run out from narrow Tuckerton Creek makes a slow but scenic ride – Masterson offers tours there as part of his charter business – and all told the ride to Beach Haven is less than an hour.
“Tuckerton Creek is a hidden gem. For the most developed state in the country, it’s a remarkable, bucolic place,” said Masterson.
Offering a touch of eco-tourism and easier day-tripping access to the island could be a winning combination, said Salvanto.
“It’s like you’re enjoying the whole day. You don’t have to take a car ride,” she said. “The hope is, for our 100 days of summer, this could be a regular service.”
There could be another market: mainland residents who work in Beach Haven. Salvanto has heard from them too. Conceivably there could be enough riders to support a ferry with regular capacity of 50 passengers, suggests Tim Hart, Ocean County’s historian and director of engagement at the Seaport.
Traffic being what it is, a regular Tuckerton-Beach Haven ferry service could offer a slogan like the pitch NY Waterway founder Arthur Imperatore has made for 30 years to northern New Jersey commuters: ride with us, and get an hour of your life back every day.
“People want to commute differently. With iPhones and tablets and other devices, it’s also business time, when you can stay in touch with people,” said Pepenella. “And it’s more flexible, you can get off the boat and call Uber or Lyft to make a connection when you want. Technology is catching up with why we haven’t been successful in the past.”