Family-owned and operated since 1935, Wendella Tours & Cruises provides public ferry transit, tours and cruises across the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Boarding the Chicago Water Taxi means removing thousands of automobiles from the roads and taking earth-heating emissions along with them. In 2018 alone, Wendella shuttled over 400,000 passengers along the Chicago River. That’s the equivalent of over 8,000 buses and more than 200,000 car trips!
The Green Thing About Public Transportation
Wendella is rooted in a rich history where the benefits of mass transit were first seen when sailors were transported between the U.S. Navy Great Lakes Naval Training Station and Navy Pier during WWII. Later, the Wendella Commuter Cruiser (now Chicago Water Taxi) shuttled the city’s rail commuters during morning and evening rush hour, proving public transportation to be an efficient, cost effective method of travel.
Today, Wendella operates a full fleet of vessels, carrying locals and visitors around Chicago’s best sights and attractions. To help mitigate emissions and protect river health, Wendella completes stringent routine maintenance to ensure their services meet EPA regulatory requirements involving cleaning products, deck runoff and painting materials.
Wendella continues to invest in cleaner, more fuel efficient engines for their vessels. Their most recent fleet repowers have saved over 300 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Wendella’s aim is to reduce another 300 – 500 tons per year by 2030. Further, Wendella seeks to adopt tourism, recreational and industrial vessels into their fleet, thus extending the life and purpose of these watercraft.
Besides positively impacting the environment, Wendella’s services also support Chicago’s local communities by increasing transit access. With connections to over eight different neighborhoods located along the Chicago River, Chicago Water Taxi provides an affordable and convenient commute, allowing riders to get to the jobs, people and places they care about. Wendella further shows community support by recruiting crew members from these surrounding neighborhoods and keeping the local spirit right at the heart of their business. Wendella also participates in trash cleanups of the Chicago River each year.
Diesel Is Here To Stay… At Least For Now
While Wendella has managed to advance its fleets towards greater fuel and energy efficiency, propulsion still remains their greatest challenge. Right now in 2021, it is economically unfeasible for many companies to move away from diesel fuel completely and most modern marine vessels use diesel engines as their prime mover.
Wendella strongly believes that advancements in battery and electric propulsion technology while focusing on driving costs down is essential to the domestic passenger vessel fleet. They have looked into battery and fuel cell technology and while there are examples of publicly subsidized diesel-electric hybrid ferries, the cost to electrify fleets is an obstacle for many. As propulsion technology continues to develop – and hopefully with a renewed interest now that the economy is recovering from COVID-19-, Wendella is seeking every opportunity, big or small, to make adjustments and improve their operations.
The Green Waters Program
Michael Borgstrom, President of Wendella Sightseeing Co. Inc., co-founded the Passenger Vessel Association’s Green Waters Program, a best practice guide for navigating sustainability within the passenger vessel industry. Through the Green Waters Program, hundreds of passenger vessel operators across the continent have implemented environmentally conscious business and operating procedures, proving that running cleaner, greener operations is possible without creating financial or operational strain.
In addition to Wendella’s spearheading of PVA Green Waters Program, Wendella meets or exceeds all provisions of the EPA’s Vessel General Permit (VGP). Even though smaller vessels like water taxis are exempt from the VGP, Wendella has gone above and beyond by implementing the VGP fleet-wide.
Wendella has also voluntarily implemented many environmentally conscious practices including but not limited to:
- An extensive recycling program for riders and employees encompassing oil filters, anti-freeze, oil, cans, bottles, paper, cardboard, and ink cartridges
- Use of compact fluorescent and LED lighting
- Complete vessel idle reduction policy
- Energy Star appliances and paper reduction
- Use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel
- Frequent and regular overhauling and repowering of vessels with Tier 3 engines
- Use of low flow toilets onboard vessels
- Vessel windows rated for energy efficiency
- Compostable cups used on vessels and for concessions
- Recycled plastic dock construction
- Implementation of solar panels and wind turbines at off-season shipyard