Watertown software founder takes on Boston traffic with new water shuttle

Watertown software founder takes on Boston traffic with new water shuttle

By Hannah Green – Inno Reporter

The idea for building a water shuttle on the Charles River came to Drew Rollert as one might expect: After a particularly terrible attempt to get around by car in Greater Boston. 

Last summer, the Watertown entrepreneur was gifted a few Red Sox tickets. He got some friends together, shared a few beers on his deck and ordered an Uber to the game. But the driver canceled on them. When they tried to reorder a ride, they were matched with the same driver, but the price went up by 40%. So they tried to catch the 52 bus. But it didn’t show up.

“We walked back with these beautiful Red Sox tickets. I had to throw them away because it was like already the first inning by that point,” Rollert said. “I walked across the bridge and I looked at this empty river and this beautiful dock that no one is using.”

The idea for Wada Hoppah — a water shuttle that eliminates the need for driving, parking or using a ride-share service — was born. 

Rollert is in the process of creating an all-electric boat to ferry people up and down the Charles, starting at the Galen Street Dock in Watertown and running to the Hatch Shell on Beacon Hill, with several stops along the way. He expects the boat to be used by commuters, but also people traveling to events such as Red Sox games. Rollert said the service has about 100 pre-registrations so far. 

The Wada Hoppah will seat 12 to 15 people and won’t create a wake. It is also handicap accessible and will have solar panels and a bathroom onboard. Rollert said the Wada Hoppah is designed to be open air when it’s nice out and have windows when the weather turns sour.

Rollert said people can’t just throw a boat in the Charles and expect it to maneuver the river. In some places, the Charles is only about 18 inches deep, Rollert said. Before designing Wada Hoppah, Rollert and his team did river depth testing, evaluated docks and conducted time trials. They found that the trip takes about 67 minutes from Galen Street Dock to the Hatch Shell. Tickets will cost about $25 roundtrip and will be purchased through an app.

The design for Wada Hoppah was recently finalized. If everything goes to plan with boat construction and obtaining the required licenses from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Rollert said Wada Hoppah could be traversing the river in about two-and-a-half months.

While Rollert is from Cape Cod and says he knows the basics of boats, he won’t be captaining this ferry. Similar to what he does in his day job, Rollert said, he’ll be focused on filling the seats.

Rollert is also the founder and CEO of BetrSpot, an app that helps people ​​find or trade spots in crowded environments, like coffee shops. 

He said the experiences of running BetrSpot and starting a water ferry are very different. His work with BetrSpot requires a huge focus on engineering and extreme diligence, making sure a single comma is not out of place. Some of the greatest challenges he’s encountered with Wada Hoppah were not the design of a watercraft, but navigating the politics and relationships with groups involved in the Charles River, including DCR, rowers, kayakers and more. 

“If you’re like, hey, I want to pay attention to you. I think we can make this a balance. The balance can work. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both,” Rollert said.

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