On the Record
by Daniel Bush
Jan 07, 2009 | 3197 views | 0 0 comments | 63 63 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Tom Fox first launched the New York City Water Taxi Company in 1997 the project tanked.

At the time there was little interest in waterfront development, Fox recalled recently, and city residents were just not ready to accept the idea of a full-service commuter ferry system. Besides, Fox admitted, back then he didn’t really have enough money to make the business run in the first place.

Conventional wisdom suggested Fox should have discarded his water taxi dream as an ahead-of-its-time vision for some future developer.

But Fox, 61, is anything but conventional. Instead of giving up he partnered with fellow businessman Douglas Durst and the two started anew in 2002 with three vessels and 18 employees.

Six years later, Water Taxi has a ten-ship fleet and 85 full-time employees. The company makes commuter runs around New York and also provides a variety of tourist services. Today, said Fox, his company’s bright yellow boats symbolize New York’s waterfront future.

“We’re showing people how the waterfront could really work,” Fox said. “I see a time where the region is tied together by high speed ferry service. I see a bright future for water born transportation.”

Fox has spent his entire adult life on the water, though as a young man growing up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn he could not have predicted he would one day run taxis on the waterways of New York.

At the age of 19 Fox volunteered for the Vietnam War and served two tours, one with the Navy, before returning to New York. To pay his way through Pace University and Brooklyn College, Fox repossessed cars for GM while he studied botany and environmental issues.

After graduating in 1975, Fox said was hired as a National Parks Ranger at the Gateway National Recreation Area that stretches across parts of Queens and Brooklyn.

“Most of the other rangers were from out West and I was the kid from Flatbush,” Fox said. “That’s where I started my environmental career.”

Since then Fox has made his mark in New York, leading diverse environmental projects from the planning and building of the Hudson River Park to the Green Gorillas movement to turn abandoned city lots into community gardens.

Fox said he first got the idea for Water Taxi in the early planning stages for the Hudson River Park in the mid 1980’s. “One thing that came up was that there was no way to get around the waterfront,” Fox said.

So a plan was hatched to start a water transportation system. The rest is history- almost. After the failed late 1990’s start, Fox said his second attempt is only just now beginning to pay off. Fox said the Water Taxi Company just recently began turning a profit.

The company’s future, remains undecided. But Fox says he is confidant the enthusiasm surrounding Water Taxi will grow in the years ahead. “We’re opening up the waterfront to future generations,” Fox said. “That’s what its all about.”

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