Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Will Riders Come Back after Ferry's Shutdown? on Feb. 5, the Service Was Closed for Maintenance; It's Due to Reopen Feb. 24

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Will Riders Come Back after Ferry's Shutdown? on Feb. 5, the Service Was Closed for Maintenance; It's Due to Reopen Feb. 24

Article excerpt

Byline: DREW DIXON

With the Mayport ferry in the midst of a nearly monthlong shutdown for maintenance, Jacksonville port officials are wondering if ridership will return to its normal level when the service reopens Feb. 24.

Amid the economic slowdown, alternative funding sources such as advertising and the Nassau County government are no sure bet. So what does that add up to for the familiar ferry's future?

"What the numbers will do from here is anyone's guess," said Nancy Rubin, spokeswoman for the Port Authority, which took over the service from Jacksonville in 2007.

The ferry's sole vessel, the Jean Ribault, stopped running Feb. 5 for its service at Atlantic Marine.

Halting the ferry service between Mayport and Fort George Island for a month is "a risk, but it's a risk we have to take," Rubin said. "By law, the ferry has to be serviced a certain number of times out of the water. Our hope is that our ridership understands this is necessary. ... Bear with us is all I can say."

The Port Authority got rid of the backup vessel, Blackbeard, to cut costs.

Rubin said the peak months for the ferry are March through September. But the JPA's numbers show ridership dropped through 2007 and last year. Fares were increased and hours of operation were reduced. The JPA reduced the subsidies needed to run the ferry from about $1 million annually to $500,000. But the service is far from paying for itself through fares.

Alternative funding sources such as advertising on the ferry and contributions from surrounding governments such as Nassau County and Fernandina Beach have been discussed.

To advertise the port, the JPA is distributing 5-ounce bottles of spicy sauce with "Much Hotter Than Your Average Port" stamped on the label. Port Authority officials spent $5,000 to $6,000 on 500 bottles of the hot sauce produced by Half Moon Bay Trading Co. …

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