Water taxis ready to splash into Bay

Two Bay Area companies are set to begin competing in a choppy marketplace: Shuttling well-heeled clients around the blustery waters of San Francisco Bay.

After years of studies and hiccups selecting vendors, the Port Commission Tuesday approved five-year contracts with two firms to provide water taxi services to and between waterfront locations in San Francisco.

Sausalito-based Tideline expects to launch today its first 12-passenger boat carrying passengers to and from the San Francisco watefront and lower Marin County.

Published Tideline fares start at $30 between the Ferry Terminal and AT&T Park, and climb to $102.25 for a trip between AT&T and Sausalito. Trips must be pre-arranged either by telephone or via their website.

San Francisco Water Taxi, on the other hand, expects to offer more informal service between Hyde Street Harbor, Pier 1-1/2, and South Beach Harbor. Owner Dave Thomas told The Ex he hopes to carry their first passengers sometime in October:

“I always felt there was a reason we did not have this here. I couldn’t understand why.”

Water taxis are popular in many European cities, though their use in the United States has been limited.

New York City has had a fun, hop-on, hop-off water taxi providing service to Manhattan’s West Side and Brooklyn since 2002. New Yorkers get a full day of riding on the water — aboard bright-yellow boats, no less — for just $26.

Both Bay Area outfits likely hope a swell of attention toward America’s Cup and the waterfront in 2013 will buoy their business models and establish demand for their pricey yet distinctive service.