Paris looks to have pipped London to the post in the race to become the first city in the world to be served by hi-tech and environmentally friendly “flying” river taxis.
Because trying out in the French capital next spring at the request of its environmentally conscious city hall,the futuristic egg-shaped river shuttles, the creation of French yachtsman Alain Thbault and Swedish windsurfer Anders Bringdal.
Made of fibreglass and high-density foam, the solar-powered vessels can carry five people and, with the help of foils fixed to the hulls that reduce drag and cause the shuttle to “fly” about two feet above the water, can reach up to 30 kilometres per hour (19mph).
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, helped the start-up get off the ground and the team was repaying that favour by testing the vessels on the Seine, Mr Thbault said.
“If London had helped us out I think we would have started out there,” he told The Daily Telegraph, adding that city authorities and private firms around the world had been in touch with him to find out more about the project but he had had no contact from London officials.
Mr Thbault hopes that eventually his “Sea Bubbles” could be hailed on apps such as Uber, and he estimates that fares in Paris will be around 10 euros if and when the project is given the green light.
The yachtsman has raised around 500,000 euros in investment to develop the prototype, which he plans to exhibit at the high-profile Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
“Next spring we will hold a public demonstration on the Seine in front of the National Assembly (parliament) in Paris with five Sea Bubbles,” he said.
Mr Thbault has just returned from New York, where he met with officials interested in having hundreds of Sea Bubbles working the Hudson River, and he says he has been told of other potential plans to buy a fleet of 1,500 in Florida.
“But we are taking no orders at the moment. We first have to finish the prototype,” he said, adding that he hopes that the Sea Bubble may eventually become driverless.
If the vessels are granted licences to ply their trade on the Seine, the plan is to build specially designed docking stations where passengers can hop on or off. The docking points would also serve as charging stations.
The Paris test will come just a few months after Ms Hidalgo, as part of her battle to reduce pollution, pedestrianises a two-mile stretch of highway that runs along the northern banks of the Seine.
The office of the mayor of London did not respond when asked about its attitude to the Sea Bubble project by The Daily Telegraph.
There is, however, still hope for the British capital to get into the “flying” river taxi game.
“Once we have gone beyond the prototype and have fully developed the Sea Bubble, we might, after Paris, begin with London or Geneva,” said Mr Thbault.