Why Paris won't be getting its fleet of 'flying' water taxis after all

Evie Burrows-Taylor
Evie Burrows-Taylor - [email protected]
Why Paris won't be getting its fleet of 'flying' water taxis after all
Photo: aFP

The prospect of Parisians being ferried up and down the River Seine in flying water taxis looked like becoming a reality earlier this year, but the idea has been sunk by red tape.


The creators behind the madcap 'flying' water taxis known as SeaBubbles have decided to ditch their grand plan to launch the vehicles on the Seine.
The Bubbles, which can fit five people, essentially four passengers and a pilot, had looked set to become the latest addition to the French capital's varying modes of transport but will not now take to the water.
The sinking of the project is due to a failure of SeaBubbles' creators and the French capital's independent port authority to reach an agreement.
The news will come as a blow to Parisians and Mayor Anne Hidalgo who had been keen to welcome the electric boat taxis to Paris and had even taken part in a test ride.
When the SeaBubbles were successfully tested on the Seine back in June Paris looked like it was on course to become the first city in the world to use the SeaBubbles as a mode of transport.
But French yachtsman Alain Thébault, who said his dream was always to make sailboats fly, has been left frustrated by the red tape.
"I'm French, my start-up is in France, I had the support of Anne Hidalgo and President Emmanuel Macron, but there are too many administrative constraints to get started in Paris right now," he added.
Thébault is pointing the finger of blame at the port authority, which sets the rules for the use of pontoons and other port areas.
"The autonomous port is governed by rules set up 140 years ago for barges," Thébault said.
"We will not continue to spend months discussing with the management," he added. 

Thébault has announced that he will take his SeaBubbles to Lake Geneva instead.

The port authority stepped in to defend itself, saying: "The rules are the same for everyone" including mooring rates. 
According to Thébault, the autonomous port of Paris offers pontoons for €1,000 per day. He said they received a much more tempting offer to set up in Switzerland. 
Speed limits on the River Seine would also have posed a problem for "Sea Bubbles" in Paris.  The maximum speed allowed on the River Seine is 18km per hour as long as the boat is more than 20 metres away from the river banks and weighs less than 20 tonnes. If not, the speed limit is 12 km per hour.
"The speed regulations are made to avoid big boats creating too many big waves that damage the banks, but that rule is obsolete for the SeaBubbles, which practically don't make any waves at all," said Thébault.
The "Sea Bubble" - "a bubble with four wings" - is powered by two small electric motors. It is powered by solar energy through panels on the vehicle.
It floats 70 centimetres above the river, only making contact with the water via its four "marine wings", or foils, which reduces the resistance by 30 to 40 percent compared to a boat of a similar size.
And the machines are something the Frenchman has been working on for the last 25 years, he writes on his website, starting with building wooden models and more recently breaking sailing speed records.
The vehicle is designed like a Fiat 500, he says, with the same technology but different propulsion. The wings under the boat essentially lift it off the water, reducing the drag significantly. 
The news of the u-turn is likely to come as a massive blow to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo who, if the plans had gone ahead, would have been able to boast that the French capital was the first city in the world with the little bubble cabs. 
The Mayor of Paris has not given up hope however and has promised to try and find a solution and persuade port authorities to bend the rules.
So while the project may be on hold in France, it's possible it could still happen in the future. 
As for Paris, "we will come back," Thébault said without further details.


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