Bringing the Aquabus Back: St. Petersburg Water Taxi Can Be in Demand Again

23 August 2016, 0:00

Valentina Solovyova, a Master’s Program graduate and staff member for ITMO’s “Optimal Transport Systems” Laboratory has become a winner of the “Recent Graduates Giving Back to the City” contest. Her project was dedicated to modernizing the aquabus water taxi – a promising, but underdeveloped public transport service that has been used in Saint Petersburg from 2010 to 2015. Valentina defined the properties that will allow the aquabus to become popular and convenient – and bring public water transport back to the city.

Why aquabuses are no longer?

Saint Petersburg’s aquabus lines stopped functioning in 2015, due to their low popularity among the citizens. Instead of easing the workload of surface transport and the subway, they were more of a tourist attraction. What’s more, the city had to subsidize 480 rubles per person each trip, with the fare being 200-380 rubles. As a result, the system became totally ineffective and completely degraded in 5 years, and was closed in 2015.

Still, Valentina believes that general idea of aquabuses was good.

“One has to understand that public transport is not about economic gain, but social advantages. This means that it doesn’t have to “earn” for the city, though it shouldn’t require much subsidies as well. The navigation season in Saint Petersburg isn’t as short as many believe – it lasts from the middle of spring till the middle of autumn, which is almost half a year. If we refer to the experience of using waterborne public transport in such cities as London, Hamburg and Amsterdam, we’ll see that such trips can be cheap or even free, and are in demand. Using a proper approach, we’ll be able to achieve this as well”, – shares the graduate.

In her project, Valentina defined several problems of the failed system. First of all, that was the schedule – when aquabuses started at 10 am on workdays, they automatically missed out on their main target group, those who could’ve used them to get to work starting at 8 am. The intervals between the rides were also ineffective – being from 20 to 50 minutes, when most people wouldn’t wait for more than 15 minutes.

“I’ve conducted an Internet poll between 500 people who use public transport to go to work. In most of the cases, people saw aquabuses as a leisure-time activity, and only 1% used them regularly”, – says the Master’s student.

Another problem was the passenger capacity – small crafts that could carry no more than 10 passengers have been used. Thus, after waiting for about 40 minutes at a pier, one could not get onboard due to the lack of free seats. The location of stops and the lack of informational support was also among the problems.

“To attain the sufficient and regular passenger flow, the aquabuses have to work from 7 am, with smaller number of intervals; the information support has to be improved as well. This can be done using the GPS/GLONASS systems, electronic displays and specialized mobile apps. And we should not forget about proper advertising. After all this is done, aquabuses will stop being some kind of leisure boats and become part of the common public transport system”, – believes Valentina.

A new approach to the problem

Valentina Solovyova and her research advisor, Yaroslav Smirnov used mathematic modeling to create new traffic plans for aquabuses. The information from electronic tickets was used as source data; using genetic algorithms, the researches drew up the optimal routes. Obviously, this was not enough to get final results with a detailed traffic plan: Valentina had to analyze different research articles and concepts to achieve it. The previous plan by the Transport Committee had lots in common with her work, although the student proposed creating new routes. According to her research, six routes are to be created, covering not only Neva and its arms, but Fontanka and Obvodny Canal as well. A route to Kronstadt will also be a good idea. The calculated price for most lines will be around 60 rubles, excluding Kronstadt (150 rubles). There will also be a need to create several stops near the city’s transport hubs, especially near the subway stations “Sportivnaya-2” and “Ploshad Lenina”; most of those are to be based on the existing piers.

“There have to be some discounts for passengers who change routes – for example, a common ticket with a 90 minutes duration. Combined trips should also be possible: when a person can first go by bus and then get on the aquabus without losing any time or money. Using “Podorojnik” electronic tickets can stimulate this practice – actually, it was already used a couple of years ago. Thus, aquabuses should be integrated into the common system of public transport, not stand aside of it”, – believes Valentina.

Reviews and follow-on

Despite the high quality of the conducted research, Valentina could not analyze several essential factors due to the lack of data. For instance, such things as the weather conditions and days when navigation is impossible for any reason have to be taken into account. There is also the problem with transport operators and the number of available crafts. New crafts may have to be ordered or rented from commercial operators; maintenance costs can be a problem as well.

Speaking of the problem of subsidies necessary for the aquabuses, there are several factors speaking in their favor. For instance, aquabuses do not use roads, hence there is no need to spend large amounts of money on road repairs.

“We’ve had an agreement with the Agency of Interurban Transport that I am to continue my work. So, if everything goes fine, we might be able to enjoy the aquabuses by 2017”, – concludes Valentina Solovyova.

Polina Poleshchuk

Editorial office, ITMO University