Amsterdam’s troubled waters in anniversary year
AMSTERDAM _ In 2013, Amsterdam marks the 400th anniversary of its canals. Clouding that milestone is the fact that the waterways, which lure 3 million visitors a year, have become a boaters’ battleground. Many blame the city’s licensing policy for keeping smelly, diesel-powered tour boats in service, encouraging unregulated passenger traffic and feeding the chaos of private boats. The city is taking a belated cue.
Today, there are 333 commercial licensees, up from 202 in 1994. Private boating licenses have doubled to 12,000. Amsterdam’s canals are a smorgasbord: 2,500 house boats and 100 passenger vessels offering tourist and scheduled services. Of the 15,000 recreational craft, 15% are unlicensed. There are 100 water bikes and 130 rental boats _ small and big tenders, gondolas, party boats and water taxis.
A recent report by an independent study center said flaws in the city’s licenses policy give cit hall a weak grip on commercial operators. Weak enforcement means there is a “gray zone between regulated and unregulated” traffic. Some 300 vessels carry out “illegal passenger traffic.” Commercial canal traffic comes in many forms, including a hop-on, hop-off museum service, no-skipper boat rentals, traditional glass-top tour boats and party boats offering ‘dinner,’ ‘after-dinner,’ ‘Christmas,’ ‘wedding,’ ‘casino,’ ‘comedy,’ ‘bachelor,’ ‘Prosecco,’ ‘BBQ,’ and ‘Karaoke’ tours.
House boaters complain about noise from “party boats” and diesel fumes from tour boats. Private boaters say the latter of having no manners. A common complaint: the city does too little to force tour boat operators to shift to clean power. Boris Klatser, of the ‘Save Amsterdam’ city council faction, told the ‘Nieuwsuur’ TV program: ‘’Their sooty emissions get trapped between the canal houses.”
The city is taking action. “We will double speed checks, strictly monitor noise nuisance and remove wrecks and badly maintained boats,” says Diane Kleinhout, spokeswoman for Waternet, a water issues agency. The city also plans to overhaul its permits policy as of 2014 by distinguishing between scheduled tour and party services, busy and less busy canals, one and two-way routes. Future permits will also aim to nudge dirty boats out of business. The city also says it will crack down on freeloaders. Every year, an estimated 3,000 skippers ”forget” to pay their annual berthing dues.