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Bring on the permanent water taxi

My favorite part of The Day's coverage of all the fun happening around New London last weekend was the picture of a pilot run of the new water taxi to Groton, with three little girls grinning broadly as the boat left New London in its wake, a big American flag snapping crisply in the September breeze above the girls' heads.

Some of the usual lemon suckers chimed in with negative comments: Where are the life preservers? Of course the taxi was busy all weekend - it was free!

Honestly, you have to wish some people would just pull the covers over their heads and let the rest of us move on, maybe even have some fun.

For the record, the boat was being run in accordance with Coast Guard regulations - New London's own ferry company provided licensed operators at a discount - and the life preservers were stowed right where they are supposed to be on a commercial vessel, in this case one that carries jacket-less adults and children from Mystic Seaport on the Mystic River all the time.

As for the free ride - the pilot program was financed largely with private donations and some small contributions from Groton and New London.

For those who would complain about permanent state and local subsidies for a Thames River water taxi, be sure to include in your criticism the considerable grants and subsidies, state and federal, made to all modes of transportation, public buses, trains and, more substantially, our roads - building, repairing, plowing and cleaning them.

The cost of establishing a water taxi on the Thames, one that could be both part of a new park, linking tourism attractions, as well as a transportation option for residents and visitors in both communities, an economic development driver linking a whole new community to trains and ferries, would be a small drop in southeastern Connecticut's bucket, compared to the firehouse used in southwestern Connecticut to subsidize commuter rail.

I found during my excursion on the pilot taxi service that it was full of optimists, people who were excited at the prospect of something that seems so full of promise for their communities, and so close at hand, you could actually climb aboard.

One woman boarding the taxi on the Groton side lamented that it hadn't happened sooner.

"I have never lived in a place with so many unappreciated assets," she said, clearly glad for the prospect of something that would not only finally call more attention to them, but link them for visitors.

Another rider from Groton was carrying brochures to promote Groton's Bill Memorial Library, a short walk from the taxi landing. She was planning to hand them out at the busy I AM Festival underway for music lovers in New London.

I met another charming woman who told me how much she loves her adopted city of New London, where she arrived more than 20 years ago, after some family connections with the American military brought her to the U.S. from her native Vietnam.

She is a school bus driver and worked three jobs to put her children through Williams School in New London. Now that they are finished with their education, she is thinking about going back to school herself, maybe to study nursing.

She came out for a ride on the taxi because she thinks it would be a great step forward for the city she loves. She's also a traveler, lacking only Alaska on her bucket list of visiting all 50 states.

I also ran into many other taxi optimists on my ride, from the volunteers who handed out brochures and helped move lines along to New London City Councilor Michael Passero, who seemed to enjoy watching the boat come and go from City Pier.

Missing was state Sen. Andrew Maynard, who helped lay a lot of the legislative groundwork in Hartford to revive the park concept. Now recovering from a head injury, Maynard will no doubt appreciate a chance to get back to Hartford and continue the work.

Indeed, the volunteers, local businesses and nonprofits of eastern Connecticut have all done a lot of heavy lifting to get the taxi off the ground.

It will need more leadership in Hartford to push it to the crest of the hill. After that, it will surely roll fast down the other side.

Now that it's election season, it will be good to hear all the candidates' full-throated promises to get right on it.

This is the opinion of David Collins

Twitter: @DavidCollinsct

Twitter: @DavidCollinsct


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