Commuters can call a cab to cross the sea to their destination, rather than negotiate the road traffic, with the launch of a water taxi service that ferries passengers from Valletta waterfront to Sliema for €5.

The latest service has already transported 3,500 passengers in its three weeks of operation, by word-of-mouth advertising alone, showing the market was growing, according to Transport Minister Austin Gatt.

Amid scepticism, five licences for water taxis have been issued to three operators since 2009, he said yesterday, describing the service as part of the “modal shift” in travelling.

Works on the Barrakka lift, connecting the waterfront to the capital, are scheduled to start in August after the government hands over the site next week, Dr Gatt said.

The plans for the vertical connection had been changed about three times but it is scheduled to be in place towards the end of 2012.

The next step, Dr Gatt said, was a scheduled ferry service between Marsamxett and Grand Harbour for which tenders would be issued in September and the system up and running by next March.

Malta Water Taxis is operating two yellow boats, based on the Rib design, but a third and fourth are being built in view of the success it is predicting, said its CEO David Farmer.

The company will be gauging travel habits over the next couple of months, he said, adding that he was not concerned about the competition and that 50 per cent of passengers over the last three weeks were locals.

A trip from Valletta to Vittoriosa would cost €2.50, a fare which is legislated.

Addressing the launch at the waterfront, Valletta Cruise Port CEO John Portelli said a record was registered last week when, for the first time ever, a vessel with over 5,000 passengers and crew on board berthed at Lascaris Wharf.

He said the cruise passenger figures for last month were “encouraging” and “exciting”, with good prospects ahead.

The water taxis are based at the waterfront but other stands have been set up. They operate on a call-and-ride system (7999 0001) from 7 a.m. to midnight and pre-bookings are encouraged for evening trips.

An updated service status is available on

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