Third company submits water-taxi proposal
By Charlotte Libov
A system of boats and vans branded with advertising to keep costs down and outfitted with comfortable amenities to create "seamless door-to-door service" is the brainchild of MoVe Better, a new Miami company that has joined two others in vying to create a system to ferry commuters across Biscayne Bay.
Michael Valdes-Fauli, who would be the company's CEO if MoVe Better gains the contract, said the plan would succeed where others have failed because it would offer a more posh service. "It would be like JetBlue instead of a regular airplane coach," he said.
The MoVe Better plan is one of three being considered for the creation of a public-private high-speed commuter water-transit system that would ferry commuters across Biscayne Bay, shortening their travel time.
José Luis Mesa, director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said his department will meet with MoVe Better and the other two companies in contention, Water Taxi Inc. of Fort Lauderdale and Metro Aqua Cats of Miami, this week to discuss their proposals. Water Taxi and Metro Aqua submitted letters of interest for the project in April. MoVe Better submitted its proposal more recently.
"The project is moving along," said Mr. Mesa. He said that after meeting with representatives of all three companies, he and his staff will determine what recommendations to make to the county commission.
Of the three making proposals, only Bob Bekoff, owner of Water Taxi Inc., is experienced in operating transit services, having run a water-taxi service in Fort Lauderdale for years.
A similar system operated for several years in South Beach, but a lack of demand ultimately caused it to fail.
Peter Evans of Metro Aqua Cats, runs a photography and videography company.
Mr. Valdes-Fauli is managing director of public-relations and marketing firm the Jeffrey Group, and MoVe Better partner Michael Vassilaros is an analyst for real estate investment company LNR Properties.
Mr. Valdes-Fauli said he and his partner envisioned the three-year pilot program they are proposing after determining that the county's real estate boom would create a need for infrastructure to serve the growing population.
"There are currently 63,000 condominiums in some form of development in Miami at a cost of $14.9 billion," he said. He noted that most of the development is taking place in an area that spans seven miles - including Coconut Grove, Brickell, downtown, the Biscayne corridor and South Beach. In addition, "other pockets suffer from particularly dismal commutes."
Mr. Valdes-Fauli said his company's proposal incorporates boats and vans to deliver commuters to areas close to their jobs while his competitors' proposals only include boats that would ferry commuters across Biscayne Bay to connect with other forms of public transportation.
"If a company gets a contract and starts a water-taxi business, it will fail if it doesn't use vans. If you drop people off on land and there is no one there, it will fail," he said.
His company's plan seeks to make the system "a little more branded and high-end," he said. "I don't think people taking water taxi will want to get on a county bus. There needs to be a certain image and comfort level. It needs to be a seamless, branded, door-to-door trip.
"Although it's natural to think, 'Why don't we interweave this with the existing county transit system?' that logistically limits where you can put in the stops and also the timing," he said.
His proposal calls for construction of large docks in Black Point and Aventura with 400 to 500 parking spaces. Commuters would drive there and ride a large water taxi for 30 minutes, arriving at one of three stops around between North Biscayne and Coconut Grove. Commuters would the be picked up by 40-passenger vans and dropped off at close-by office buildings.
"The total trip would take 45 minutes to one hour, all having been stress-free, gas-free and while reading the paper," according to MoVe's proposal document.
The proposal also calls for an interlocking water and land transport system that could serve people who live in the Brickell area and work downtown and one for South Beach residents who commute to Brickell and downtown. Later phases could incorporate more routes, he said.
MoVe would seek federal and county funds and would court venture-capital firms and sell advertising, according to the proposal. "We would design these vehicles to allow for billboards on the sides of taxis and vans as well as paid drop-offs inside the seating space such as menus, magazines and announcements. Due to the very high-end crowd this system would attract, possible advertisers include jewelry stores, men's clothing, newspapers, films, liquor and local restaurants and retailers."
Mr. Valdes-Fauli said he and his partner believe their plan would be a perfect way to capitalize on growing Miami. "I guess the biggest thing is that we see it as a fluid opportunity, both for us and for the city," he said.