Water taxi set to sail to rescue of gridlocked Beirut

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The Independent Travel

Dream of commuting into bustling Beirut minus the nightmarish traffic? The Beirut Water Taxi will offer an alternative for tens of thousands of people crowding into the Lebanese capital every day.

"Traffic has become unbearable in this country," said Khaled Takki, head of the privately-owned Lebanese Water Transportation Alternative which is behind the project.

The water taxi service, similar to the famed ferries on the Hudson River and the Hampton Ferry on the River Thames, aims to pitch an affordable, eco-friendly and enjoyable option for employees, students and tourists alike.

"Instead of having frayed nerves by the end of the hours-long commute, this will allow employees, students and tourists to enjoy the trip and read the paper over breakfast or a cup of coffee," Takki told AFP.

"Employees will be more productive and ... students from all regions across Lebanon will not have to stay in dorms in Beirut, in addition to the advantages it offers tourists," he added.

Takki says he was inspired when two of his own employees submitted their resignation letters because they could no longer bear to wake before dawn to beat the hours-long traffic.

"They were sick and tired of spending two hours on the road to reach Beirut from Antelias," a coastal city just five kilometres (three miles) north of Beirut.

His 50 million dollar project has received the support of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and now awaits ratification of a law that will allow it to set sail.

"Once we get the green light, we expect to build the piers and shuttle boats within one year," he told AFP.

Around half a million cars drive in and out of Beirut every day, a quarter of them carrying only the driver, and congested traffic in the hot Beirut sun is frequently the centre of television news reports.

"Our aim is to cut back at least 25 percent of the influx of cars into Beirut and offer employees, students and tourists a pleasant option in their commute," Takki said.

The Beirut Water Taxi plans to start by transporting 10,000 people across Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline daily and eventually build its capacity to accommodate 50,000 people.

Passengers can expect to pay 6,000 Lebanese pounds (four dollars, three euros) for a 25-minute ride from Beirut to the northern suburb of Jounieh, the same price as a shared taxi.

Takki says the ferry service, which should help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, will stop in major coastal cities - Damour, Sidon, Tyre and Naqura in the south, Jounieh, Byblos and Tripoli in the north, and the capital Beirut.

The service employs three different types of boats: "shuttles" carry up to 160 people, "clippers" up to 220 people and "VIP speed taxis" some 16 people.

Takki plans to first use Australian-made Catamarans with 30-knot power to transport passengers along the coastline from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.

The project also includes a bus service to transport passengers from the dock to destinations throughout the city.

The Beirut Water Taxi is set to operate throughout the year, pending good weather, and passengers are insured for up to 250,000 dollars (198,601 euros).

The entrepreneur estimates his project will also create some 15,000 jobs.

"This project will not cost the state anything," he said. "In fact, the government stands to make some money from taxes on ticket sales and will be able to use our sea 'highway'."

And, in line with Lebanon's love of food and fun, Takki even plans to turn the boats into floating restaurants with a view of the coast at night and build shopping centres along the piers.

The project has already secured thousands of fans on Facebook - some of whom are asking Takki to build a coastal train as well.

"We want a railway too! A train along the shore and toward the Bekaa" in eastern Lebanon, wrote one Facebook fan.

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