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Downtown's water-taxi service has been back for about six months after a brief hiatus last year, but the short-term fix ends Saturday. The operator and city have been in discussions on how to continue the service.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 4, 201512:00 PM EST

Water taxi service in limbo

Ridership has dropped 40% since 2012
by: David Chapman

The short-term solution for Downtown’s water taxi service is up Saturday.

There isn’t a long-term agreement or an extension in place yet, but all sides have been working on ideas this week.

Jacksonville-based Lakeshore Marine has operated the water-taxi service for the past six months and hopes to continue — but not in the same manner it has been, said Heather Surface, one of the marina’s partners.

“It’s going to require a fresh look,” she said.

The main challenge has been low ridership, Surface said, with the service averaging 31 passengers on weekdays. That doesn’t include holidays and special events. Overall, Surface said ridership was down by about 40 percent from 2012. Exact numbers weren’t immediately available.

Possible deterrents like cost, time commitments and locations could be factors that need to be addressed moving forward.

She and her husband, Frank, have a “skeleton” of a plan of changes they’ll likely pitch. She declined to elaborate, saying it was in the process of being refined.

One aspect she mentioned, though, was locations and specifically the burgeoning Brooklyn area. The water taxi doesn’t travel to the neighborhood, but she said it should be considered along with additional Downtown stops.

But for now, just keeping it operational is the goal. She said no extension with the city is in place, but a short-term extension “might be the best route.”

City spokeswoman Pam Roman said those discussions are ongoing, which now include the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. The three sides met Tuesday, but there wasn’t talk of specific funding or options — mostly just talk about the current challenges, Surface said.

Meanwhile, there also is the matter of the boats themselves.

Council member Matt Schellenberg voiced concern Tuesday that Harry Frisch, the boats’ owner, may not be able to sell the vessels for the $339,000 he paid. Frisch bought the boats after it was deemed the city’s purchase of them was unauthorized.

Frisch, chairman of Beaver Street Fisheries, did so to ensure service continued, but that was seen as a short-term solution. He has leased the boats to the city for basically nothing, with Lakeshore using the vessels to continue service.

Surface said Lakeshore always has been interested in operating the boats and there have been discussions about purchasing. But, she said, it would have to be at a lower price although it’s irrelevant if the business model isn’t addressed first.

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