Water shuttle service takes shape for Anna Maria Island

chawes@bradenton.comMay 11, 2011 

ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- A push to bolster the role of water -- and reduce the role of roads -- in accessing Anna Maria Island is about to take a pivotal step forward.

Led by sea captain Tracey Dell and supported by a group of island business leaders, the Anna Maria Island Shuttle Service is slated to offer regularly scheduled water transportation between the island and five waterfront destinations.

“We’re really hoping it’s going to help tourism and get some cars off the road,” says Dell, owner of Idylwild Enterprises, which already operates the Kathleen D Sailing catamaran. “And maybe it will also make a few bucks and keep a few people employed.”

Dell has already lined up the support of several community leaders, including restaurant owner Ed Chiles, one of the island’s most active business owners and a leader of the revitalization of Pine Avenue, the island’s main thoroughfare. Chiles has been vocally supportive of water transportation to, from and around the island for more than a decade.

“Pine Avenue is all about trying to get people out of their cars and this is a way to do that,” Chiles said. “It would be a great amenity to our community and I think our businesses will be very supportive. I think they’ll see that it’s going to be beneficial to them and to the island they love.”

“Our entire project has always been about the long-term outcome, about how our town turns out,” said Mike Coleman, a partner with Chiles in the Pine Avenue Restoration Project, and another supporter of the water shuttle service. “This water shuttle complements what’s already going on in Anna Maria Island with green technology.”

Years ago, water transportation around Anna Maria Island was a goal of the Manatee County Commission, Chiles said, but the idea never became reality. And while another private business operates a “water taxi” on a small scale, Dell’s plan is to run his “water shuttle” in the same way public buses follow a pre-determined schedule and route that is posted and reliable.

“That’s why we’re not using the term taxi,” Dell said. “This is going to be scheduled. We’ll be working off of published schedules that are distributed all around the island.”

While Dell has yet to pin down the exact details, his plan is to depart from the Anna Maria Island Pier about every hour and hit key locations that include Coquina Beach, Coquina Park Bayside, Bradenton Beach, the Seafood Shack in Cortez and Holmes Beach. Eventually, he’ll expand to include daytrips to Fort DeSoto.

Proposed water shuttle service locations:

While he’ll begin providing chartered service on the route in October, the organized shuttle service won’t start until February. Dell plans to offer three levels of service to start: $5 for a one-way ticket to any intra-island destination on the route, $10 for a day pass, and $60 for weeklong unlimited service.

Another important aspect of the plan is the boat itself, Dell said, which he chose because of its relatively low environmental impact. The 45-passenger, wooden Chesapeake Bay deadrise uses less energy than many boats because it “cuts through water rather than on top of the water,” Dell said.

Dell plans to use bio-diesel fuels to reduce emissions and he’ll use photovoltaic panels to charge the boat’s battery while it’s docked. Dell also will be holding the boat’s “gray” water in storage tanks so that the water can be discharged into sewer systems rather than into the Gulf.

“He seems to have his head screwed on right and he really respects the environment,” says Lizzie Thrasher, who along with her husband co-owns the Historic Green Village, another supporter of Dell’s project. “I know he’s going to go about this the right way.”

Dell hopes to recruit a few more business sponsors and is seeking a commitment of $4,800 over two years, for which sponsors will receive publicity in all of the service’s advertising. Though he anticipates the shuttle service will actually lose money for its first year while it builds ridership, his plan also calls for revenue-sharing with his sponsors.

Christine Hawes, Bradenton Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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