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A return to waterborne transportation in response to city congestion

18.11.2019
mobilité fluviale

Shipping, water taxi services and public transportation: waterborne transportation is at the forefront of initiatives to improve mobility in city centers.

Starting in the 1970s, waterborne transportation gave way to faster alternatives such as rail and road transport, but today our cities’ rivers and waterways are making a comeback. Waterway transportation has some major advantages. First of all, the routes already exist, which means that inner city road congestion can be alleviated without investing in new infrastructure. In addition, delays due to traffic on roadways are a non-issue on waterways. Lastly, both cities and companies place a high value on environmental stewardship; and waterborne transportation has the advantage of emitting five times less pollution than overland transportation.

SeaBubbles’ flying river taxi

Waterway initiatives are consequently flourishing. A leading example is the Bubble, a flying river taxi developed by SeaBubbles. This five-passenger electric boat can travel at up to 28 kilometers per hour. Two large hydrofoils allow the boat to hover silently above the surface of the water for a wave- and pollution-free ride. The Bubble has been tested on the Seine, Lake Geneva and Biscayne Bay in Miami. In the greater Paris region, the water taxi is expected to be operating commercially by spring 2020, and the city of Miami has already ordered 26 vehicles.

Uber Boat and public ferries

Uber launched its Uber Boat in Mumbai, India in February. The ferries can transport between six and ten passengers between three stops on the city’s seafront. The same service is currently being tested in Lagos, Nigeria with 35‑passenger boats. According to a University of Lagos study, waterway transportation services have reduced average road commute times by 46% in the city. Public ferries also have a role to play. In New York, where a ride costs the same as a subway ticket, the ferry has been a resounding success. In 2017, the fleet was launched for a forecast 4.5 million passengers per year. Within six months, use increased to 9 million passengers per year, double the original estimate. Passenger numbers are also on the rise every year for London’s river bus, which serves 33 stops linked to major underground stations along the Thames. The line’s operator plans to add an eighteenth catamaran to its fleet in order to carry an additional 300,000 passengers per year.

Delivery by water

Waterborne transportation has also caught the attention of companies interested in getting their merchandise to city centers more efficiently. Since 2012, Franprix has supplied its Paris stores from a logistics hub located on the Seine. With Fludis, Ikea plans to prepare packages and carry out other logistics operations on board during the boat journey from its warehouse in Gennevilliers to its destination in Paris. Once docked, a fleet of electric tricycles will deliver packages to customers before returning to the boat for the trip back to the warehouse by water. Also in Paris, the Green Deliriver is expected to be operational by 2020. The concept is based on delivering packages within Paris from a floating warehouse and extracting urban waste via the same channel.

A river runs through it

Riding the wave of slow tourism, river tourism is on the rise.  Since 2018, “le Ducasse sur Seine”, a 180-passenger, electric dinner cruise vessel, has taken visitors on a three-hour culinary tour of Paris. In 2018, river tourism in France had increased by 5%, reaching 18 million passengers. Waterway transportation seems to have a bright future ahead of it.

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