Vaporettos for Portland?

One of my fondest memories of childhood was a much-planned, much-saved-for family vacation to Europe in my early teen years. One of the seven-countries-in-21-days destinations was Venice and I can’t forget the Vaporettos (water taxi/buses) that plied the canal system. Correspondent Bill Badrick fills us in on a vision for Vaporettos in Portland. – Chris

Portland ‘VAP’ Water Taxi Vaporetto Service

Broad Scope Objectives:

  • To provide a regularly-scheduled affordable Water Taxi local trip service in the central Portland and Willamette River areas linking North/South and East/West communities.
  • To provide a significant enhancement for entertainment, convention and tourismbusiness and cultural activities by providing a venue for positively experiencing the City of Portland.
  • To provide revitalization to existing waterfront communities and locales, and to spur redevelopment of properties and facilities along the Willamette river-front.
  • To link Parks and Recreation Areas all along the river-front to local and regional communities by accessible water craft service, running from Sellwood / Oaks Park to Kelly Point Park / Sauvie Island.
  • To provide an alternative economic form of daily travel and commuting to alleviate congestion, parking and local environmental impacts on the central city.
  • To enhance the bicycle and pedestrian networks by developing multi-modal overlapping travel and recreation functionalities.
  • To create opportunities to build connections to other regional centers from Lake Oswego and Oregon City to Vancouver, Washington.

Hist Park Dock fin pg


water taxi fin pg



About the History Collection Park ‘Working Center’:

We are a 501c3 Corp. that is working to create a new ‘Community Model’ facility. We have a 77,000sf. historic dock building on the Willamette River in downtown Portland that is being donated to our cause. Our Vision is to develop a Working History Park.

It will be a place for community groups to come, free of charge, and showcase the  craft, skill, and work they do and did. We see this as a model for people across the country and the world. We picture Native Americans weaving baskets and carving totems, culinary experts cooking up historic recipes for events, boat builders rigging up small sailing ships, weavers spinning yarn and making garments, and on and on. Each of our groups will display their history, but also live it right there day in day out.

The roof of the building will be turned into a huge grassy park right up above the river. Our dock will become a public way-stop for canoe, kayak, and the dragon boats.

We will host the 154 foot LCI 713 as it is being restored and offered for tours daily.

We have a design ready for a water taxi that can serve the whole city waterfront.

18 responses to “Vaporettos for Portland?”

  1. I’ve been hearing planners and politicians and local visionaries talk about the prospect of water taxis since the 80s. But nothing ever comes of it.

    I don’t see the benefit of water taxis for transit. Tourism, yes; add one more seasonal ride. But not transit. What trip can be made by water taxis that will be competitive with bus and/or rail? How many trip generators are close enough to the river that “water taxi” will be and advantage over bus or streetcar. And as for the trips a water taxi actually can serve at an advantage — how many want to take those trips?

    • Clearly, you’ve never taken the bus from St Johns to downtown. An express *anything* is preferable to that.

      I think there’s potential as a transportation source (ignoring the economic question). Stops at Cathedral Park, Swan Island, Downtown, South Waterfront, maybe Sellwood seem at least plausible, especially if you encourage bikes.

      But I’m still not going to hold my breath on it working…

      • I’ve traveled between St. Johns and downtown many times. I take #16 when possible, #75 with transfer to the Yellow Line as an alternative. There’s no way I’m gonna walk down to Cathedral Park to catch a river taxi, unless “riding a boat” is the goal in itself. For better service to St. Johns, I’d rather see #16 run more frequently and down the transit mall.

      • Where are the good burghers of St. Johns going to board and alight from these VaporWareEttos? Do you propose adding a 150′ lock to the system?

  2. Efficient boats are slow. Fast boats are hideously inefficient. Throw in the insurance and maintenance costs and anything to do with boats becomes cost prohibitive very quickly.

    Where do water systems thrive? In places where there is no good alternative. Those places tend to be where here are lots of waterways connecting lots of parts of cities (think Amsterdam, Venice, some cities in SE Asia). Or places where bridges are impractical (Think ferries such as Seattle & the Puget Sound).

    Water is good for moving massive tonnage – very slowly but much more efficiently than by truck…

    But for simple people movement it is *incredibly* inefficient.

    I have a decent boat. It’s pretty efficient as far as boats go, but at Wide Open Throttle (WOT) it’s only got a top speed of around 40mph. At WOT my small boat burns between 4 and 5 gallons per hour. I can carry 10 people. So it’s about 10mpg to carry ten people at 40mph. More efficient boats (generally non-planing boats) can easily beat my fuel economy – but at the cost of speed. Maybe 20mph tops, more like 10mph nominal. Add to that the time it takes to dock – and you have a very slow form of transportation. Friend’s jet boats which can go faster than 50mph (not very safe on rivers) can burn 10 to 20 gallons per hour. One friend has burned over 50 gallons just tubing for a few hours on a lake – they had to fill up three times… But man their boat is super fast…

    Basically – on our river – it would just be for recreational and tourism use. Which I am not opposed to – but it certainly would not make any sense as a viable transportation scheme.

    It’s why they say a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into.

    • Boats work best where there are no bridges, or no roads alongside the water.

      All of our rivers have ample land connections on the shores.

      There are places were a boat CROSSING the river might be useful, given long travel distance to the nearest bridge (LO-Milwaukie, or Sauvie Island-Kelley Point, or Troutdale-Camas); the Canby Ferry serves a useful purpose given that the nearest Willamette crossings are in Wilsonville and Oregon City. This is especially true for users on foot or on bike, for whom the effects of a long detour to a bridge is magnified.

      • Water taxis seem to do okay in Chicago, where there are bridges galore and a ton of transportation infrastructure. When I took on of them it seemed to be about 80/20 tourist/public use.

  3. I like the idea for fun. Also like thinking of a back up transportation option when all our bridges approaches are compromised after the level 9 earthquake. I do doubt it would be economically viable.

    • You think if all our bridges are compromised after a 9 earthquake that we would be able to boat under them?

  4. Home Dock at NW granary pier, Fields Park, Pearl.
    Docks at Saturday Market, Salmon Springs, OMSI, Riverplace Marina.
    5 docks for various runs, tourism, taxi. Canoe/Kayak dock near OMSI.
    Would Eastside Hawthorne Dock be included? Seems like it.
    Anyway, it’s going to happen.

    • Electric assisted by rowing? Recharge at the docks?
      They should be smaller Portland Spirit class comfort water craft.
      Electric assisted by hybrid recharging on a bio-fuel.
      OMSI to Fields, all waterfont districts must first grow.
      It’s a long wait for water taxi jaunts during festivals,
      summer evenings, routine trips.

      • It’s a pretty long wait for the Max after a Blazer Game too ! We can start with a three ship fleet, and just like the Streetcar, slowly gain more vessels to serve peak loads and solar panel recharge times.

        I was at the Working Center today planning the renovation, and it sure is going to be beautiful to hop on the VAP from there and head to the dock at Riverplace for lunch.

        Anyone with a strong back or a checkbook that wants to join us, let me know {-:

        • They should be smaller Portland Spirit class comfort water craft. Electric assisted by hybrid recharging on bio-fuel.
          It’s a pipedream at this point. Make sure dock construction accommodates a realistic vessel and route arrangements for some as yet indeterminable future date to begin a practical watertaxi service. Not a bad idea.
          Give it 10 years before possible inaugural.

  5. I was impressed and delighted with the water taxis in Vancouver, BC. They were short, stubby, quick little boats that reminded me of the mini-tugs used on log ponds. I don’t know the details of their ridership or efficiency, but I suspect they are a more practical design than the one I imagine to be represented by the drawing shown. If the vessel in the drawing includes wave piercing bows on a twin hull, it would be the most efficient type possible, although unable to spin on a dime. Still looks like too much freeboard to me.

  6. There is a problem with including Vancouver, WA in a water taxi scheme. It’s a l-o-o-o-n-g ways, around Pier Point to connecting downtown to downtown. Not nearly as short as you would think. St. Johns isn’t really that close, either. However, a Willamette waterbus could make sense, because I project with all of the inept planning we have, our roads will get very congested. SE Tacoma Street, two blocks from my house, is going to get frightfully congested, even with a new bridge. METRO and MultCo have no way to control whether suburban areas embark on growth schemes of their own, and have no way of blocking any increasing numbers of commuters. The Sellwood bridge project has been basically a wash.

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