Jacksonville, FL - Jacksonville is scrambling to get the downtown water taxi moving once again by this weekend’s Country Superfest at EverBank Field.
“It just feels like it’s part of our brand and important to our reputation to maintain that service,” says Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling.
Bowling says the two boats purchased by Jacksonville for $332,000 should arrive by Wednesday, when they will undergo inspection. She’s “optimistic” that will lead to the boats running full service Friday. They are finalizing a six month contract with a local man to operate the vessels, with the deal being that the City owns the boat, but the operator incurs all costs- like fuel and staffing- while also getting the fees from the service.
After the City’s previous vendor stopped operating because their contract had lapsed and the City rejected its most recent bid, there’s been fast moving negotiations to find a replacement with as little impact on the service as possible. Bowling says they considered leasing boats and other options, but found this to be the best option.
“If the City was going to have a water taxi service this summer- our busiest time of the year- our only choice was to purchase these boats,” she says.
At 102 passengers and 49 passengers, however, Bowling realizes the vessels will transport a combined 100 or so fewer people on each trip. Because it’s unclear how much revenue the operator will be able to generate, she says they will be in constant contact to make sure everyone is in a good position.
Some City Councilmen, however, question the position this deal puts the taxpayer in.
“I’m not sure I’m on board with the City being in the water taxi business,” says Councilman John Crescimbeni.
Because of the tight timeline, the $332,000 needed to buy the boats was taken from the City’s banking fund as “an emergency”, meaning it did not need Council approval- and vetting. Crescimbeni acknowledges that there are some cases where this is appropriate, like for public safety, but says this is a different league.
“I think there are several vendors out there that could probably provide that,” he says.
Bowling says it would be beneficial to revisit what constitutes “an emergency”, but says the Office of the General Counsel determined this purchase would be legal. WOKV has requested that legal ruling and we will break it down as more information becomes available.
The deal reached here is designed to be short term while another vendor is lined up for a long term contract. Bowling says, at that time, they may opt to sell the boats back to the manufacturer or another interested party. She says they are also speaking with the Riverfront properties to gauge any interest, and may even opt to keep the boats to use for special, big events.