The Harbour Authority has announced in its May figures, that a record 200,000 people have been estimated to have travelled on Cardiff’s waterways between 2016 and 2017. This is almost three times the figure of 72,000 when the service opened in 2002.
Operator, Danny Rees said there is “enormous potential” to increase this number with five million visitors to Cardiff Bay every year.
One of 13 operators on the water, Mr Rees said; “We barely scratch the surface (with numbers). It has the potential to be an alternative bus service. But we get more tourists than locals – Australians, Italians, Turkish, they are used to water transport. But here it’s not in our culture, our psyche.”
Thousands of flyers have been distributed to attract early morning commuters travelling between the bay, Penarth and the city centre, yet only a small amount of people have used the service in the last six weeks.
During the 2015 rugby international between Wales and England, Prince Albert of Monaco, who was visiting Cardiff, used the water taxi service to travel between his Cardiff Bay hotel and the Principality stadium. There have been calls for locals to follow his lead as there are nine stops around the city, including Mermaid Quay, Grangetown, City Centre and Bute Park.
However, during the summer period, his 90-seater Princess Katherine ferries approximately 1,000 people a day and operators are unable to meet demands due to the volume of water travellers on international ruby days.
Mr Rees says there is potential to accommodate more match-goers as there are various unused berths around central Cardiff, including Leckwith, the International Sports Village, Sophia Gardens and near Cardiff City Stadium.
Day-to-day work commuters could benefit by travelling by water as opposed to the train. Mr Rees believes water services could be better connected to Cardiff Central station.
If more people were encouraged to use Taff Mead Embankment (behind Central station) and possible new platforms and a redeveloped water stop and Brains Brewery site, their journey would be changed dramatically.
Currently, visitors arriving at Cardiff Central must board a train to Queen Street, then another to the bay, before arriving at the derelict former Bute Street Station.
“If you got on a boat and not a train, you would approach the bay from in front, towards the picture postcard view,” Mr Rees said.
“Towards the image that goes all over the world with Pierhead, the National Assembly building and Millennium Centre.”
Steve Woodward, Consultant and Director of the Aquabus service says the waterways are “crying out” for a formalised system.
Mr Woodward said:
“Penarth is currently a request stop [on the Aquabus], the demand is not there because the route has not been developed.
But with imagination and commitment, a lot can be done. The river is quite shallow immediately after Bute Park, but with the right vessel, it’s possible to go to Sophia Gardens, maybe further.
There is also the potential to offer 12-seaters to apartments and businesses like the white-water rafting centre and St David’s Hotel.”
He believes the current arrangements are discouraging investments of large sums of money from companies. A 100- seater boat costs upward of £700,000 and a 12-seater approximately £80,000, he says operators want guarantees of potential income.
He has called for a franchise to be awarded to one company, which would allow it to invest and develop the route.
Cardiff council – in the form of the Harbour Authority – took over responsibility for the waterways after the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was dissolved in 2000.
Over the past 13 years, nine water stops have been put in at a cost of £1m, including those at Channel View, the Doctor Who Experience and Techniquest.
Andrew Vye-Parminter said some of these stops are not used and new ones would cost around £200,000. He believes money could be better spent in other areas, suggesting those already in place should be improved, for example providing covered waiting areas.
However, he said the authority will “encourage and support” ideas, such as any future proposals relating to the Brains site.