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- 2014 - June - 4th -
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The Jacksonville Water Taxi service will be shutting down service Friday. No permanent vendor is in place yet, but the city is working on temporary solutions for a series of events for June and July with the hope an operator can be in place by early August.

Still no solution to replace water taxi service, which shuts down this week

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

As it now stands, Downtown won’t have a water taxi after Friday.

Baltimore-based HarborCare LLC informed the city last month it had decided to stop the service at the end of this week, citing the city declining its bid for a longer-term contract.

HarborCare had been operating on a short-term extension after its contract expired at the end of January, but any hope of keeping continuing service was likely dashed over the weekend when the company provided the city its “essential terms.”

They include the city paying $25,000 a month, instead of the company paying $300, which would offset the Jacksonville Water Taxi’s current monthly shortfalls and “significant loss” in revenue.

The city also would have to agree to at least a three-year deal, while maintaining former insurance levels. The requirements were increased when the city sought new bids.

The company also would provide six vessels with a minimum per-vessel capacity of 30 seats and total of 350 seats as it has been doing, taxi President and CEO Michael McDaniel said in his May

letter.

The city cited the capacity issue as its reason for rejecting the company’s bid for a longer-term contract this year. Monday-Thursday service requires a minimum of one boat and 40 seats, Friday-Sunday and holidays call for two boats and 70 seats, while football games need six boats and 350 seats.

Calls over several days to McDaniel seeking comment have not been returned.

City Council member Don Redman told members of the Recreation and Community Development Committee that the company didn’t expect the city to adhere to the demands.

That means after Friday there won’t be regular service during a stretch of Downtown events like this weekend’s U.S. Men’s National Team match at

EverBank Field, the Florida Country Superfest next weekend and the Fourth of July celebrations.

The city is working to fill the gap, Tera Meeks, chief of the waterfront management programming, told the group.

After a request for proposal earlier this year was met only by HarborCare, Redman said there are vendors that are a “great possibility” for a contract. Meeks told the committee Tuesday that she thought there could be a permanent provider in place by the first week of August.

As for the next several weeks through July, Meeks said the city continues to reach out to HarborCare about keeping the service in place while also talking to vendors in Fernandina Beach, St. Augustine and Palatka that could work for the city in the interim.

“I do believe we will have people lined up to take care of upcoming events,” Redman told the committee.

The city is in the predicament of an expiring contract with no replacement because the request for proposal didn’t hit the street until mid-January, weeks before HarborCare’s agreement was to end.

A six-month extension bought some time, but a lack of responses led to further delays.

Although the city’s parks department started the process in September, it wasn’t approved by other city departments like the Office of General Counsel and risk management until later, Meeks told the committee.

She said one of the lessons she learned was to start such a process earlier.

Council members didn’t find out until last week about the situation.

Redman said he intends to stay on top of the situation, but given HarborCare’s likely departure, he just wants to be informed by the city about what’s happening.

“At this point, I just want them to communicate with what’s going on,” he said.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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