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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 20, 201412:00 PM EST

Water taxis contract to be advertised next week

by: David Chapman

While the city still deals with past actions about purchased boats, the long-term future of the water-taxi service took a step forward Thursday.

Potential vendors can start submitting their bids next week to provide the Downtown service after a three-person panel OK’d the framework of what the city is looking for in its next vendor.

The Competitive Sealed Proposal Evaluation Committee, commonly referred to as CSPEC, approved the request for proposal that will hit the street Wednesday and remain advertised for 21 days.

The document isn’t available to the public until advertised, but Tera Meeks, city chief of waterfront management and programming, told the committee the goal was to make it more appealing to vendors and attract a wider response.

The last request for proposal only garnered one response, that being from the vendor who was operating the service without a signed contract for months. HarborCare’s bid was rejected over a capacity issue and the Baltimore-based company stopped local service June 6, after giving two weeks’ notice.

Discussion between Meeks and the committee did reveal some of the changes in this document compared to the last.

This one will have a percentage of the vendor’s gross revenue coming back to the city instead of a flat fee. The past fee was $600 a month, but the new system “should be about the same” in terms of money coming back to the city, Meeks told the board. What it will allow is the vendor to not be as financially impacted should ridership numbers drop in any given month.

The minimum number of vessels and capacity required also will be about half of what’s now required, Meeks said. For larger and special events like football games at EverBank Field, that’s been six boats totaling 350 passengers.

The preference, she said, is for the city to work with just one vendor, but the lower minimums will allow the city to work with other vendors for those occasions when greater capacity is needed. The company awarded the contract will be the only one allowed to ferry passengers on normal weekdays and weekends.

Another change in this request is that interested companies won’t be mandated to attend a pre-bid meeting, just encouraged.

After the advertising period ends, the sealed bids will be reviewed by Meeks and two others, all of whom will grade the bids before turning their scores to the evaluation committee. From there, the committee will forward its recommendation to Mayor Alvin Brown for contract negotiations.

Meeks said the goal is late July or early August to have a permanent vendor in place.

As for the current situation involving two boats the city bought for almost $339,000 two weeks ago, the seller met with City Council member Matt Schellenberg on Thursday, according to a public email.

Ronnie Cunningham, Trident Pontoons Inc. owner, in the email told Schellenberg he thought their conversation was “constructive” and he looked forward to working with him and Harry Frisch to resolve the problems surrounding the water taxi issue.

Frisch, Beaver Street Fisheries owner, has indicated he would buy the boats so the city didn’t lose the opportunity to benefit from them.

Cunningham in a Wednesday interview with the Daily Record said he was planning to deliver the second boat to the city after delivering the first last week, although the city asked the day before to cease delivery.

He said in the Thursday email it was his intent to still deliver the vessel and would work with the Coast Guard to obtain certificates of inspection “as expeditiously as possible.”

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