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The Sea Charm 1 is at an Ortega marina.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 27, 201412:00 PM EST

New water-taxi Request for Proposals changes passenger capacity, fee structure

by: David Chapman

The city has been without a water-taxi operator for weeks, but a new call for operators who can offer a long-term solution hit the streets this week.

City officials are hoping the request for proposals attracts more bidders than the effort earlier this year when only one business stepped up. That was Baltimore-based HarborCare, which was the vendor before it ceased local operations this month because a deal could not be reached.

Several changes may or may not lead to a better response.

“The overriding goal is we want to have the best water-taxi service possible,” said David DeCamp, spokesman for Mayor Alvin Brown.

One of the larger differences is the requirements on vessel capacity, which was part of the reason the HarborCare bid was rejected.

The last RFP required at least one boat that seated 40 people Monday-Thursday, two boats and a total of 70 seats Friday-Sunday, and six boats with 350 total passengers for special events and football games.

For the latest request, the minimum number of seats for regular weekdays and weekends has dropped to 30 passengers. For special events, the minimum requirement is now three boats and 120 passengers.

The difference is the city is reserving the right to work with multiple vendors to provide capacity for those larger events, but the RFP states it prefers to work with just one. Also new is the city sets the fares for those events.

Vessel capacity also has been deemed important enough to consider it a standalone scoring category, one that is weighted highest on the scale of 100. Basically, the more capacity a potential vendor has, the more points out of a possible 20 will be earned. Providing the minimum will mean earning just one point.

Another substantial change is the fee structure that determines how much the vendor pays the city each month.

Gone is the set structure of $600 a month, replaced by a system that incorporates a percentage of gross revenue going back to the city.

The minimum requirement is 2 percent, but bidders can earn more points on their submissions by pledging higher. That’s worth a total of 10 points.

Other changes include the addition of Americans with Disabilities Act language and the overall points assigned to each category for scoring.

One area that hasn’t changed is the term of the contract. It is five years with the possibility of three one-year extensions.

The bid opening is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 16.

While the request for proposals is considered to be the long-term solution, the city’s current boat-buying problem seems to be almost over.

Weeks after the Brown administration improperly bought two vessels as a way to maintain the water-taxi service, a local businessman stepping up to buy

the boats is calling it a “done deal.”

The deal has Harry Frisch buying the boats from the Tavares-based seller, who will return the $339,000 the city paid him without City Council approval.

Council member Matt Schellenberg has worked on Frisch’s behalf for the deal. “Everybody agrees to everything, we just need to get the paperwork finalized,” he said.

Schellenberg said the hope is to wrap up the deal by today, once attorneys sign off.

Pam Roman, a city spokeswoman on the issue, said Thursday the city is in the final stages and working to finalize the agreements.

Robbie Cunningham, owner of Trident Pontoons, did not return a call for comment.

Once the deal is complete, Frisch’s name will be on the title, which Schellenberg said “is everything at this point.”

That would mean the boats could then be inspected by the Coast Guard and a step closer to returning to the water.

The 50-passenger Sea Charm 1 has been in Jacksonville for more than week, sitting idle in an Ortega marina.

Schellenberg said the 102-passenger Lady L should be in town early next week.

After the boats are inspected, Frisch would lease them to the city for $1 a year, then would sell them after the city finds a long-term water-taxi operator. The city would maintain liability under the deal.

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