It's only a matter of time before water taxis and trolley buses come to the riverfront

A multi-modal transit system along the Detroit River is one step closer to reality. Plans call for a water taxi and trolley bus system that would initially run from Belle Isle to the Ambassador Bridge. Depending on international developments, the transit system could expand to include ferry service between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy commissioned Freshwater Transit Solutions to develop the system. The conservancy is now preparing presentations for community partners as they seek to secure funding for the project. Will Smith, CFO of the conservancy, characterizes the water taxi/trolley bus service as a must-have for connecting residents in city neighborhoods to the riverfront.

"It's something that we'll be implementing, we're just not sure when," says Smith. "We're not going to build something we can't take care of. We'll get our ducks in a row and it will happen at some point soon, even if it's in phases."

In its plans, Freshwater Transit evaluated the feasibility of the project, how to implement it, and how it will impact local residents and businesses. The basics of the plan have a 40- to 50-foot water taxi with a 75- to 100-person capacity travelling along the Detroit River. Trolley buses would both travel along the riverfront and make connections to nearby neighborhoods in places like Southwest Detroit and the East Jefferson Corridor.

"This isn't going to be just a little system like a Disney ride," says Tom Choske, President of Freshwater Transit. "We want something that has wider value and makes the riverfront more accessible to everyone."

Both Smith and Choske expect the system to roll out in phases, expanding its range as time goes by. One hope is that the system will put pressure on Canada to build a docking facility similar to the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority's, a building designed with international customs operations in mind. Once a Canadian equivalent is built in Windsor, the transit system could then expand to include international ferry service between the two cities, says Choske.

While there is no official beginning date for the transit system, Smith says the conservancy could run some demonstrations this summer to see how it works. But for now, it's about finding the funding.

It will be another busy summer for the conservancy as it prepares to celebrate the opening of the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center, an extension of the Dequindre Cut, and adding more events to the RiverWalk, including the recently announced move of the Downtown Hoedown to the West RiverWalk expansion. Now that they've passed their plans to the conservancy, Freshwater Transit is focusing efforts on a crowdfunding campaign to promote the Regional Transit Authority.

Source: Will Smith, CFO of Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, Tom Choske, President of Freshwater Transit Solutions
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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