Kerala to experiment with water taxis from October, first one in Alappuzha’s backwaters

Sailing in a new direction in the public water transport sector, Kerala is set to experiment with 10-seater water taxis, the first of which will be launched next month in the backwaters in Alappuzha district.

The state water transport department (SWTD) had placed orders for four boats that can be operated as taxis for public use after conducting feasibility studies last year. This is the first time that a ‘water taxi’ facility is being launched by the government in Kerala.

“Just like taxis on roads, these boats will be available for the public. They can call on a specific phone number and the boat will pick them up and drop them at their destination. The tariff will be on a per-hour basis and will be reasonable,” said Shaji V Nair, director, SWTD.

“It’s a Catamaran diesel-powered boat with comfortable seating capacity for 10 people. It will have a speed of 15 nautical miles per hour and can therefore take commuters quickly to their destinations,” he added.

Unlike the regular fleet of the SWTD which operate on fixed routes, the ‘water taxis’ will simply be tethered to a boat station and can be hailed anywhere. The first of the four boats will set sail by the first week of October in the verdant backwaters of Alappuzha, a key region on the state’s tourist map. The location of the other three boats hasn’t been decided yet.

The boats have been built by Navgathi, a Kochi-based firm that gave India its first solar ferry Aditya which was adjudged the world’s best electric boat as part of the Gustave Trouve awards this year. Aditya was launched in 2017 amid much fanfare on the popular Vaikom-Thavanakkadavu route on the Vembanad backwaters in Kerala.

Sandith Thandasherry, founder-CEO of Navgathi said the Catamarans are more efficient than the usual boats from a fuel perspective. The boats are built in fibre with an efficient design in an attempt to reduce fuel consumption. At high speed, the boats will only burn 30 litres per hour, he said. They also come with an advanced electric power steering system as well as a solar panel powered auxiliary unit (CIPS), both developed in-house by the company’s research wing.

“A Catamaran has two hulls with a platform. This model enhances safety and stability…in terms of fuel, they (SWTD) preferred diesel. It has a compact diesel outboard engine. Only a few companies produce these in the world,” he said.

“Normally, such boats can be built in three months. But with the process of approval by the Indian Register of Shipping, it takes around six months. It has taken longer now, due to the pandemic.”