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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 6, 201412:00 PM EST

City spends $333,000 for water taxis

by: David Chapman

With the threat of losing Downtown’s water taxi business looming, the city has ensured there won’t be a lapse in service.

The mayor’s office reached an agreement Thursday for an emergency purchase of two commercial-model pontoon boats from Tavares-based Trident Pontoons Inc. for close to $333,000. The boats will be delivered today. At least one will be ready for service starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, said David DeCamp, Mayor Alvin

Brown’s spokesman.

The timing is key, as the city’s current vendor, Baltimore-based HarborCare LLC, plans to end service today. The company announced several weeks ago its intent to cease local operations after its bid for a long-term contract was rejected.

An operator hasn’t been selected yet, but there are a number of candidates who have said they are willing, DeCamp said.

“This will give us time to operate and maintain a service in high demand with a number of great events coming up,” he said Thursday.

With the purchase, the city now owns two boats that can seat 102 people on one and 50 on the other. While that’s down from the current possible capacity, DeCamp said it ensures similar service levels during a critical period.

A slate of events the service can assist with begins Saturday with the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team playing at EverBank Field. A week later is the Florida Country Superfest at the same venue.

With the deal, both the events and others over the next couple of months will have the service while the city puts out another request for proposals for a long-term operator. DeCamp said one fact learned during the tight timeline was that “a significant number of options need to be explored” for the service, such as a possible expansion because of interest like the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in the Fort Caroline area.

Another RFP with such possible changes will be drafted in the coming weeks.

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