Chicago Water Taxi: contributing to the future of public transportation - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago Water Taxi: contributing to the future of public transportation

Photo provided by Wendella Sightseeing Company

MPC Research Assistant Andrew Matsas authored this post.

Last week I had one of the final opportunities of the season to catch a ride on the Chicago Water Taxi, a public water transit service provided by the Wendella Sightseeing Company. Started in 1962 as a rush hour commute service, the Chicago Water Taxi provides daily seasonal transportation along the Chicago River to many destinations and neighborhoods, and is exploring near-term opportunities to expand service.

Chicago Water Taxi continues to increase its amount of commuters, visitors, and tourists (this year a projected 400,000!), transporting them to various spots along the river. Its main hub is located at Madison Street, near both the Ogilvie Transportation Center and Union Station. The water taxi network branches out to serve cultural, business, and tourist destinations in Chinatown, the Loop, and River North – and, like all public transportation providers, helps to alleviate road congestion and air pollution by providing an alternative to driving. Chicago Water Taxi is also one of the transit providers partnering in northeastern Illinois’ Commute Options pilot, which MPC is leading to help employers encourage their employees to try alternative commutes rather than driving alone to work.

On hiatus for the winter, Chicago Water Taxi nevertheless has growth on the horizon for 2013. Andrew Sargis, manager of Wendella Sightseeing Company, and the newest member of the North River Corridor Infrastructure Task Force, recently announced that Chicago Water Taxi is in the preliminary phase of developing service to Goose Island, with the goal of running trips to serve Wrigley’s Global Innovation Center and other businesses located at the island within the coming year. The expansion to Goose Island is aligned with Wendella’s Green Initiatives program.

If Chicago Water Taxi is hungry for more, the redevelopment at Wolf Point – the Chicago River juncture where the north, south, and east branches of the river meet – is another promising site for expanded service. The development proposal calls for three new mixed-use buildings, as well as a new public waterfront space with a widened river walk, bathroom facilities, a restaurant, and room for a water taxi docking station. The development plan is still under review by the Chicago Plan commission and City Council, but the project team is committed to incorporating water transportation into the site.

Even though the Chicago Water Taxi is closing up shop for the season, I cannot help but eagerly await their return in the spring and news about expanded service in 2013. Not only does the Chicago Water Taxi provide a fun and exceptional alternative to traveling throughout the city, but they also give back to the community through such events as their recent day of free service. In celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary, Wendella’s Chicago Water Taxi offered free rides on Oct. 11, donating $3  per rider (regular fare) to the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

To learn more about Chicago Water Taxi, visit their website


  1. 1. Michael Young from Humboldt Park on November 28, 2012

    I use the CWT every once in a while and appreciate it. To say that it somehow helps alleviate pollution is a stretch though. Keep it real and honest. It's a great project and there is solid opportunity. My son and I often go out of our way to take the water taxi.

  2. 2. Tim Grzesiakowski from Downtown Chicago on November 29, 2012

    Michael, thanks for your comment. I used to use the CWT regularly when I worked at 360 N. MIchigan. We worked with our contact at CWT on the story, and they included "pollution and greenhouse gas mitigation" as the benefits of using the water taxi in the background material we were sent.

  3. 3. Margaret Goldstein from Rogers Park on January 2, 2013

    Excellent idea! I will try to use it when I am downtown in the warm weather.

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