Jacksonville scrambling to replace water taxi service

Rules could change to allow smaller companies to operate service

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Next week could be the last time for awhile that Jacksonville residents see a water taxi crossing the St. Johns River.

The company that runs the water taxis notified the city Friday that it will end the service June 6. Now the city is scrambling to find a new water taxi operator.

The city is still trying to work with Jacksonville Water Taxi to see if service could be extended past June 6.

Water taxis are important for large events Downtown, particularly football games and concerts, shuttling approximately 3,000 people to the events. The Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department is preparing to ask companies to apply for the contract, but that could take one or two months to get going.

That means there's a chance there will be no water taxis during upcoming concerts and preseason football games, like these events:

  • U.S. men's soccer vs. Nigeria: June 7
  • Country Superest: June 14-15
  • 4th of July festivities
  • EverBank Field scoreboard unveiling/Carrie Underwood concert: July 27
  • Jaguars' first preseason game vs. Tampa Bay: Aug. 8

But Alan Verlander of the Jacksonville Sports Council said that should not be a problem.

"We have a very expansive shuttle system," Verlander said. "We have great parking around our arena. Our representatives at SMG do a great job to get cars in an out of here, so I don't think that will be an issue at all."

In the past, the city required a water taxi company to have six boats, and the current company was the only one to respond. So now rules may change to allow more than one company with smaller fleets to operate the service.

"You could have one vessel, two or six, because you could be with multiple organizations," said Pam Roman of the Parks Department. "So potentially during special events, you could have four services running simultaneously to be able to provide the number of vessels that we need."

That's what the city hopes will happen. But if no companies apply, the Parks Department said it will take a closer look at the city's water taxi plan, and in a last-ditch effort, could even ask the City Council if the city could run the service.

"That's a big budget question, and we won't know that until budget time comes," Roman said.

But some council members, including John Crescimbeni, have already shot that idea down.

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