The Conversation … Heather Surface
Owner/Operator, St. Johns River Taxi
You and your husband operate the St. Johns River Taxi, but we hear that plans are to provide more than joyriding between the riverbanks. What changes have taken place and what do you envision changing in the future?
Since the time we started operating the river taxi in 2014, downtown Jacksonville has changed significantly. Several tropical storms and a hurricane battered our downtown docks, and Irma completely destroyed the dock at the Jacksonville Zoo. (We had just launched a regular cruise from downtown to the zoo which was starting to take off when Irma hit Jacksonville.) During the same timeframe, many of our key waterfront destinations including the Jacksonville Landing, River City Brewing Company Marina & Restaurant, and Friendship Fountain Park have been either closed to the public or they’ve been demolished to make way for new construction. COVID impacted small businesses all over the country, and the river taxi was no exception. Frankly, we were forced to make business changes to stay afloat. Today, we focus on two main areas—river transit (taking people from one place to another) and curated experiences on the river. When there is a major event downtown like a Jags game or popular concert, we run multiple boats and extend our service hours. We now sell tickets for river cruises and regular transit (including Jags games) on our website and folks can select a pickup location.
What types of river experiences do you currently offer?
We own five large passenger boats. While we need all of them for a handful of major downtown events like Jags games and Florida-Georgia, we don’t need all of them on a daily basis. In order to keep boats (and crew!) working, we created events that draw people downtown and entertain those who are already there. Each day that we operate, we host public tours that are designed to showcase and promote the city we call home. Downtown sightseeing tours, neighborhood cruises, happy hour cruises, a monthly speaker series, and sunset cruises are just a few new cruises that we offer on a regular basis. We also urge people to consider hosting events on the water—parties, corporate retreats, school field trips, senior citizen tours, etc. The view of downtown Jacksonville from the river at night is breathtaking, particularly now that JTA has added decorative lighting to all the downtown bridges. The lighting themes change regularly, and the colorful refection on the river is beautiful. We are now licensed to sell wine and beer on board, so folks can enjoy a brew with a view!