Smooth sailing: Chicago Water Taxi to resume commuter service Sept. 5

The Chicago Water Taxi will run Tuesday through Thursday, the days more Chicago commuters head to the office.

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A water-taxi ride on the Chicago River downtown is a must for many.

Chicago Water Taxi will resume regular service three days a week beginning Sept. 5.

Sun-Times file

A wave of change is about to take over the commutes of some Chicagoans headed to their offices.

The Chicago Water Taxi is resuming service Sept. 5 with rush-hour service three days a week from Tuesday to Thursday.

A singular yellow boat will run between Ogilvie Transportation Center and Michigan Avenue between the Wrigley Building and the Trump International Hotel and Tower. 

During its three-day-a-week service, the water taxi will operate from roughly 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 6:30 p.m., with trips operating about every 30 minutes, said Andrew Sargis, the Chicago Water Taxi’s chief of operations.

“We have to adjust our schedule to meet the needs of the new commuter, which is probably going to be more sporadic and probably Tuesday through Thursday,” Sargis said. “We really hope that it’ll be successful and that we can make people’s commute and their quality of commute much better.”

The company decided on the Tuesday-to-Thursday schedule based on ridership metrics from Metra and key-card data from security company Kastle Systems, which tracks swipes into office buildings downtown. During the fall season, the water taxis will have an occupancy of 95 to 150 passengers, depending on the boat in use that day.

The Chicago Water Taxi, which is operated by Wendella Tours and Cruises, stopped commuter service in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Since then, the company has primarily operated some tourist routes on weekends and been active during major city events like the Chicago Ducky Derby and the Chinese Dragon Boat Race.

“The taxi, we envision, is really something for locals,” Sargis said. “We’re trying to be a service for the city and the city’s commuters. With the increase in work from home with the pandemic, it’s just been a tough market to compete in.” 

DePaul University professor and transportation analyst Joseph Schwieterman said people returning to the office has been very slow, and people are craving a return to normalcy.

“We’re seeing the commuter market bounce back enough to get the boats running again and see the river return to life on weekdays,”  Schwieterman said. 

Wendella has been running commuter service water taxis since 1962, according to Sargis. The water taxis used to run year-round, seven days a week throughout the day, before the pandemic. Though Sargis said he’s unsure if the taxi will ever return to that level of service, he does envision expanded service in the future.

For now, the fall service will run until Thanksgiving. The company will assess ridership data and see if it will continue service into the winter months or pause until the spring, Sargis said.

“The boats are heated,” he said.

Sargis said commuting via water taxi is superior to commuting via buses or trains, as the boats offer a faster, smooth ride on the river with clear views of the city’s architecture. 

“It’s a great way to relieve some stress, especially after the workday, or to relax and get some fresh air going into the workday,” Sargis said.

Tickets will be available for purchase online starting Monday and also can be purchased at the docks at either station. Tickets don’t expire, so anyone who’s held onto a pre-pandemic ticket or pass can use it starting Sept. 5. 

A 10-ride pass costs $25; single-ride passes are $6. Visit www.chicagowatertaxi.com for more information.

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