WATER taxis will transport tourists between Perth and the V&A Museum in Dundee as part of ambitious plans for greater use of the “silv’ry Tay”, as William McGonagallfamously styled the river.
A series of pontoons is proposed along the river linking the two cities, which would serve other visitor attractions.
The move would mark a return of passenger traffic to the Tay, which, apart from occasional trips, has largely vanished since the last paddle steamers nearly 90 years ago.
The project is being spearheaded by the newly formed Tay and Earn Trust and Perth and Kinross Council to increase leisure use of the rivers to create jobs and boost the local economy.
A range of vessels are proposed, from rowing boat-sized fishing “cobles” for local trips, to larger ones, carrying 15-20 people, for Perth-Dundee trips.
Planned landing stages include one at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth city centre and the Willowgate Trout and Salmon Fishery, under the M90 Friarton Bridge.
There would also be a pontoon at Historic Scotland-run Elcho Castle in Fife, a 16th-century tower house.
A further landing stage would be Newburgh, where there are plans to redevelop Lindores Abbey as a whisky distillery and visitor centre.
The water taxis would run as far as the £45m V&A building on Dundee’s waterfront, due to open in 2016 and expected to draw 350,000 visitors a year.
Associated plans include a network of refurbished riverside bothies for tourist accommodation, and an outdoor activities centre at the Willowgate fishery, which already offers canoeing.
A network of riverside footpaths are to be constructed to improve access.
The water taxi plan follows a successful pilot scheme three years ago between Perth and Newburgh.
Tay and Earn Trust chairman David Clarke, who runs the Willowgate fishery, said: “[The Tay] is the forgotten jewel in the crown. It’s a fantastic asset for Perth that could be used more for tourism.
“The crucial thing about the river is the lack of pontoons and landing stages at key locations to improve access.
“The V&A presents a unique opportunity, while Perth has been boosted with city status.
“We want to attract more visitors to the area and create more jobs.
“The Tay was very busy 80-100 years ago, with ferries and 200 fishing boats, but not now.”
Clarke said a feasibility study and funding would be required.
He had previously operated a water taxi service on the River Welland in Spalding on the Lincolnshire Fens.
Perth and Kinross Council said the opening of the V&A would trigger the visitor influx necessary to make the water taxis viable.
Regeneration manager John McCrone said the vessels would one of a range of new transport options being developed, including a park-and-ride site on the A90 at Kinfauns, just east of Perth.
He said these would give people the option of travelling by boat one way and returning by bike or bus. He compared the plan to Loch Katrine in the Trossachs, where visitors can hire bikes to cycle round the loch and take the steamship Sir Walter Scott back.
He said: “The V&A would be the tipping point for investing in other infrastructure on the river, but water taxis would need to blend with other transport choices.”
The Inner Tay Masterplan, a ten-year development blueprint for the river, recorded popular support for water taxis. It said that following community consultations, “river taxis on the Tay should be re-introduced, particularly if there was adequate parking and a bus shuttle service”.
The report added: “A network of landing stages could be developed on the inner Tay, to link communities along the river, improve leisure facilities and river access into Perth.
“The landing stages could provide access for passenger boats, canoeists and other leisure craft users.
“This could also support the development of a river taxi service to enhance river access and increase visitor numbers.”
David Strachan, Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust manager, said: “The Tay was the motorway of the area – the main trade route – but over the last century it came to be seen as an obstacle to be driven round. This will help get people back into the estuary for leisure and sports such as canoeing.”
A spokeswoman for V&A at Dundee said: “The development of Dundee’s waterfront will generate many opportunities in the wider Tayside area.
“We welcome any plans to enhance the economic and cultural offerings available to visitors and locals alike.”
A spokesman for Perth and Kinross Council said: “It is a strategic ambition to have this in place. The water taxis proposal would assist Perth and Kinross to capitalise on the significant predicted growth in tourism that will be brought in by the V&A at Dundee.”